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Title: Abu Yazld al-Bistaml : 

His Life and Doctrines 
Author: Muhammad ‘Abdu-r-Rabb 
Degree: Ph.D. 

Institute of Islamic Studies 

Faculty of Graduate 
Studies and Research 
McGill University 
January, 1970 

This dissertation attempts at a systematic 
study of the life, personality and thought of the second- 
third/eighth-ninth century Persian §ufl (Muslim Mystic) 
Abu Yazld al-Bistaml. Having first described and evalu- 
ated the source material, it discusses his life, perso- 
nality and mystical doctrines such as zuhd (asceticism), 
fana’ (self-annihilation), tawhld (unification) and 
ma‘ rif ah ("knowledge") . It also examines the question 
of possible Indian influence on him. 

The study has shown that Abu Yazld was an un- 
usual personality. There existed in his mind a tension 
which manifested itself in his peculiar style of expres- 
sions and actions. 

Abu Yazld elaborated on some of the existing 
Sufi ideas, and introduced into §uflsm some concepts, 
imageries and metaphors. All this helped the develop- 
ment? of the §ufl tradition. Although there is no evi- 
dence to indicate any direct influence of Indian thought 
on Abu Yazld, probably he was influenced by Indian 
systems in an indirect way. 


His Life and Doctrines 


Muhammad 4 Abdu-r-Rabb 

A thesis submitted to the faculty 
of Graduate Studies and Research 
in partial fulfilment of the 
requirements for the 
degree of Doctor 
of Philosophy 

Institute of Islamic Studies 
McGill University 

January, 1970 

(c) Muhammad ‘Abdu-r-Rabb 1970 



It was with considerable grief that the 
author learnt, after the dissertation was typed, 
that his "Spiritual Mentor", Prof. A.J. Arberry, 
had passed away. The inspiration and stimuli for many 
of the ideas in the thesis came from a perusal of 
this great man's works, and though the author never 
met him, it is his humble desire that this disser- 
tation may be dedicated as a tribute to the memory 
of one whose entire, active academic life was devoted 
to giving life and meaning to the study of §uflsm . 


The preparation of this dissertation has left 
me indebted to many persons. To Professor H. Landolt 
of McGill, my advisor in this project, I owe a scholar- 
ly introduction to the experience and the literature 
of the §ufl tradition. He has read the entire manu- 
script with care and expert knowledge and has provided 
invaluable comments at various stages of my research. 
The manuscript was also read, with much benefit to the 
author, by Dr. Charles J. Adams, Director of the 
Institute of Islamic Studies. I am especially grateful 
to him for the valuable comments and suggestions which 
he offered in spite of the pressures of his teaching 
and administrative responsibilities. My family and I 
owe him a great debt for his sympathetic concern and 
his generous assistance during our years in Montreal. 

I was very fortunate to have the counsel of Dr. M. 
§a’irl, a scholar and one who stands with in the §ufl 
tradition. He was very helpful in leading me through 
particular problems which arose in connection with an 
understanding of the mystical teachings of Abu Yazid. 


Specific chapters received the careful scrutiny of 
several other members of the faculty of the Institute. 
I wish to express thanks to Dr. N. ShehabI, Dr. I.K. 

Poonawala and Dr. D. Little for their constructive 

Several friends were generous with their time 
and advice. Mr. K. Mas‘ud has been a constant source 
of help to me in many ways. I read many Arabic and 
Persian texts with him. He also read the thesis in 
manuscript and did the proof-reading. I read the 
major part of the Kitab al-Nur with Mr. E. Sharqawl. 
Mr. J. Fiegenbaum and M rs . E. Wood were very helpful 
with problems of English grammar and expression. Mr. 
A. Nandi and Mr. T. Afcmad ‘All offered assistance 
by proof-reading the manuscript, and Mr. A. Afcmad 
by comparing the quotations with their original. 

I am also grateful to Mr. M. ‘All, Librarian 
of the Institute, and to members of his staff, Miss S. 
Perahian and Mrs. E. Steggerda, for library facilities 
and for courtesies in connection with my work. 

owe a profound debt of gratitude to my wife 
who has been patient and sympathetic during this period 


Specific chapters received the careful scrutiny of 
several other members of the faculty of the Institute. 

I wish to express thanks to Dr. N. ShehabI, Dr. I.K. 
Poonawala and Dr. D. Little for their constructive 

Several friends were generous with their time 
and advice. Mr. K. Mas‘ud has been a constant source 
of help to me in many ways. I read many Arabic and 
Persian texts with him. He also read the thesis in 
manuscript and did the proof-reading. I read the 
major part of the Kitab al-Nur with Mr. E. Sharqawi . 

Mr. J. Piegenbaum and Mrs. E. Wood were very helpful 
with problems of English grammar and expression. Mr. 

A. Nanji and Mr. T. Afcmad ‘All offered assistance 
by proof-reading the manuscript, and Mr. A. Aljmad 
by comparing the quotations with their original. 

I am also grateful to Mr. M. ‘All, Librarian 
of the Institute, and to members of his staff, Miss S. 
Ferahian and Mrs. E. Steggerda, for library facilities 
and for courtesies in connection with my work. 

I owe a profound debt of gratitude to my wife 
who has been patient and sympathetic during this period 


of graduate study. In addition, she has typed the 
manuscript and has worked patiently and carefully on 

it during the tedious process of revision. 





















"Bistamiana" . "Bis-fcamiana" by Arberry in the BSOAS 

E^I. : The Encyclopaedia of Islam 

Essai : Essai sur les origines du lexique technique 
mystique musulmane by Massignon 

5ilyah : Hilyat al-Awliya ’ by Abu Nu 4 aym 

HMH : Hindu and Muslim Mysticism by Zaehner 

Kashf : Kashf al-Mah,iub by al-Hujwirl 

Luma 4 : Kitab al-Luma 4 by al-Sarraj 

Mir ’at : Mir ’at al-Zaman by Ibn al-JawzI 

Nafabat : Nafabat al-Uns by JamI 

Nur : Kitab al-Nur fi Kalimat Abi Tayfur by al-Sahlagl 

Kawakib : Al-Kawakib al-Durriyyah by al-Munawi 

Risalah : Risalat al-Qushayriyyah by al-Qushayrl 

Shatblyat : Sharh Shathiyat by Baqll 

Ta 4 arruf : Ta 4 arruf li-Madhhab Ahl al-Tasawwuf by al- 

Tabaqat (An§arx) : Tabaqat al-Sufiyyah by al-An§ari 
Tabaqat (Sul ami) : Tabaqat al-Sufiyyah by al-Sulaml 
Tabaqat al-Kubra : Tabaqat al-Kubra by al-Sha 4 rani 
Tadhkirat : Tadhkirat al-Awliya ’ by ‘A'fc'fc^r 


# LXllrsv 
19 . 11.64 

Institute of Islamic Studies 
McGill University 

Consonants : * initial: unexpressed 

Arabic Persian. Turkish Urdu 
















































































medial and final: * 










J 9 














































































Vowels 1 diphthongs « etc. (For Ottoman Turkish vowels etc* see separate memorandum*) 
short: - a; j i; — u. 

long: \ a; 9 u, and in Persian and Urdu also rendered 0; I, and in Urdu 

also rendered by e; (in Urdu) e. 

alif maqsfirah : A. diphthongs: ^ ay; 5 / aw. 

long with taahdid : 'S? xya; uwa. ta’ marbutsh : a. ah; in i dafah : at. 




In "The Sir ( Abd Allah Suhrawardl Lectures for 
1942" , A. J • Arberry, a living and brilliant British 
scholar of §uf Ism (Islamic mysticism) , has directed our 
attention to the main task of the students of §ufism 
to-day: "the description and analysis of §ufl doctrine 
and practice on the basiBs of Islamic sources"^ as a 
prerequisite for writing a complete history of Sufism . 2 

_ ^A.J a Arberry, An Introduction to the Hi story of 
Sufism (London: Longmans, Green & Co.[1943]), p. 19 . 

This work presents three lectures by Arberry on 
the study of Sufism written at the request of the Sir 
Abd Allah Suhrawardl Foundation, and an introduction 
by gas an Suhrawardl, brother of Sir ‘Abd Allah 
Suhrawardl (d. 19353 and founder of "The Sir ‘Abd 
Allah Suhrawardl Lectureship at the University of 

These lectures do not trace the history of the 
originand development of Sufism as the title History 
of Sufism suggests, but they "form a history of the 
progress of §ufi studies in Europe since the end of the 
eighteenth century and lay down a programme for future 
work" ($asan Suhrawardl' s Introduction, p. i). 


For Arberry* s outline of the form which the future 
history of §ufism should take, see his History of 
Sufism , pp. 78-79* 

While commenting on Arberry' s lectures, R.A. 
Nicholson, Arberry 1 s murshid (Sufi master; Arberry calls 
his teacher murshid perhaps as a mark of respect for 

Arberry was skeptical about the possibility of 

writing a complete history sooner than 2021, the year 

of the bicentenary of the publication of Ssufismus sive 

1 2 

Theosophia Persarum Pantheistica by F.A.D. Iholuck, 
who was the first among European scholars to have taken 
the study of §ufism seriously. The basis for Arberry ’s 
skepticism has not changed significantly. Although 
almost thirty years have passed since Arberry laid down 
a programme of future research, not much has been done 
in the field yet. "Too many gaps remain in our know- 
ledge; too many §ufl writings are unexplored, and too 
many mystics of enormous influence are all but un- 


known." This present work which aims at the study of 

him) says, in agreement with his pupil, that "future 
research should concentrate... on providing full scien- 
tific materials_f or studying the actual process of de- 
velopment [of §uflsm] : the marshalling of facts, and 
the establishment of their relations to each other..." 
(Arberry* s Preface, p. xx). 

■h?.A.D. Tholuck, Ssufismus sive Theosophia 
Persarum Pantheistica (Berlin: Duemmleri. 1821) . 

2 _ _ 

Arberry, History of Sufism , p. 78. 

^Infra, p. 299. 

4 & 

C.J. Adams in his Foreword to Muhammad Abdu-r- 

Rabb ' s Al-Junayd's Doctrine of Tawfrid: an Analysis of 

his Understanding of Islamic Monotheism (unpublished 

Piaster's dissertation, the Institute of Islamic Studies, 

McGill University, Montreal, 1967)? p. ii. 


the life and doctrines of the second- third (eighth- 
ninth) century Persian §ufl (Muslim mystic), Abu Yazid 
al-Bis-tami, is an humble attempt at a partial fulfil- 
ment of the task which our [my] murshid Arberry'*' has 


set before us. 

One may ask: "Why have you chosen to study Abu 
Yazid in particular?" 

What Arberry said about the prerequisite for 
writing a complete history of §uflsm is especially true 
in regard to §ufism in the second and third (eighth and 
ninth) centuries . This was the formative period in the 
development of $ufism, and an understanding of §uflsm 
in its religious as well as its historical dimensions 

^The author of this work has never had the honour 
of meeting Arberr^ personally, but contact through 
ideas_is sometime more important than personal contact. 
The §ufi whom we soudy in this work once said, "Perhaps 
someone who is near us is (really) far from us, and 
perhaps someone who is far from us is (really) near us" 
(Abu al-Pa<Jl Muhammad al-Sahlagl, Al-Nur min Kalimat 
Abx T ay fur , ed. ‘Abd al-Raljman Badawl in his Shatafrat 
al-Suf iyyah [Cairo: Maktabat al-Nah< al-Mi§riyyah, 
194-9] >p. 65) • Arberry lives on the other side of the 
Atlantic, but he is very near to the author through his 
works. The author acknowledges his indebtedness to this 
great|nan for what he has taught the author of §uflsm. 


Our previous study on Al-Junayd ( supra . p.x,n.4 ) 

was also intended as a contribution to tne same end. 


necessitates an understanding of the basic concepts and 
modes of thought by which the early §ufls expressed 
their inner experience. The need for a study of Abu 
Yazld, therefore, can hardly be exaggerated. He was 
without doubt one of the most important §ufis of the 
early period and, considering his influence on later 
§ufls, he was, if we may venture to say, the greatest 
$ufl upto his time. Since we have discussed the histo- 
rical importance of Abu Yazld in the concluding chapter 
of this work, we shall not elaborate it any further 

Moreover, Abu Yazld is a very unusual persona- 
lity and thus very interesting. Some of his sayings 
and deeds are so extreme that they appear, at first 
sight at least, very shocking to anyone with a reli- 
gious belief. Once, for example, having heard someone 
reciting the Qur’anic verse "Verily the grip ( batsh ) of 

your Lord is strong",^ Abu Yazld shouted saying, "Indeed, 


my grip is stronger than His." 

What is even more interesting is another aspect 
of Abu Yazid. which goes to the other extreme. It was 

^■Qur’an, 85:12. 

^Nur, p. 111. 


the same Abu Yazld whose fear of God's majesty was so 
great that sometimes he failed to raise his hands in 
prayer for takblr (recitation of the formula " Allah 
akbar " ) and his shoulders moved so convulsively that 
people near him could hear the crackling noise of his 
shoulder-bones . ^ 

These two extremes do not represent two distinct 
periods in the development of Abu Yazld' s personality; 
rather, they exist side by side in him. The conjunction 
of opposites, which produced in him a great psychologi- 
cal tension, makes him especially interesting. This is 
also a sign of his greatness; foremost of us see things 
either as black or white which is easy to do, but there 
are some who can see both colourings and yet keep 
standing in between. The ability to reconcile opposites 
in themselves shows them to be more subtle in their 
thinking than others. Abu Yazld certainly belongs to 
this group of more subtle thinkers. 

One may perhaps ask further: "Why have you 
chosen to study the life and thought of Abu Yazld as a 

■ l 'Sib’V Ibn ul-JawzI, Mir * at al Zaman ,in Badawl's 
Shatabat , p.161. 


Abu Yazid is such a vast and complex personali- 
ty that the study of one important aspect of his 
thought, that of shatabat (mystical paradoxes), for 
example, would alone be enough for a doctoral disserta- 
tion. To have chosen one aspect would have been easier 
than attempting to study the whole of his life and 
thought. We have, nevertheless, chosen the latter al- 
ternative because, although, as it can be seen from our 
survey of the minor sources, there are brief dis- 
cussions or at least references to Abu Yazid in almost 
every book on §uflsm, no one has yet attempted to make 
a thorough and systematic study of this great persona- 
lity. We have, therefore, tried to draw an outline of 

It is really surprising that Abu Yazid did not 
attract the serious attention of any student of §ufism 
even after the publication of two important source books 
on him: al-Sahlagl's Nur in 1949 and Ruzbehan Baqll's 
Sharh Shatblyat , ed. H. Corbin (Paris: L'Institut d' Etu- 
des Irani ennes de l'Universitd de Paris) in 1966. Prof. 
H. Landolt, the advisor of this study, found it almost 
unbelievable that there would be no major work under- 
way on the life and thought of Abu Yazid. Hence, before 
embarking upon this project, the author followed the 
advice of his advisor and searched all the recent 
issues of the important journals and periodicals in 
the field of Islamic Studies to make sure that no one 
has taken up this project already. No evidence was 
found of any other scholarly activity on Abu Yazid. 

We are especially indebted to Badawl for his edi- 
tion of Nur . The printed edition of this book contains 
errors of which, we have been told by a pupil of Badawl, 
the editor himself is_aware. Nevertheless, but for 
Badawl' s edition of Nur , our work on Abu Yazid would 
not have been possible at all. 


his life and thought and to point out some problems 
arising out of the study so that later students of 
§ufism, including ourselves, might be able to take up 
specific aspects of Abu Yazid's thought, study these 
more thoroughly and try to solve the problems raised 
in this work. 

The following are a few general remarks in 
connection with the work we have done: 

1. In our attempt to study Abu Yazld's mystical 
doctrines, we have dealt with his mystical experience. 
But since mystical experience is of the nature of 
feeling, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, for our 
intellect to understand it adequately. In order to 
'know' what this experience really is, one needs to 
taste it himself. It was this realization that caused 
the famous theologian and §ufx, Abu §amid Muljammad al- 
Ghazzall (d. 505/1111), to retire from his active pub- 
lic life and to live in solitude according to the §ufi 
path ( tarlqah ) . It was some ten years before he ' tasted* 
mystical experience. ^ 

_ 1 Abu §amid Muhammad al-Ghazzali, Al-Munqidh min al- 
Dalal (Cairo: Maktabat al-Anjalu al-Mi §riyyah , 1955), 
pp. 126-127 and 130. 

Once having been asked why he was shaking, Abu YazEd 
said that one should walk between twenty and thirty years 
on the path of truth ( sidq ) if one wished to know what 
causes people to shake ( Nur , p. 9*0 • 


It is also exceedingly difficult adequately to 
describe mystical experience; for, description involves 
language, and language is the vehicle of rational con- 
cepts. Rational concepts are incapable of describing 
adequately with what is essentially non-rational . Hence 
the Baghdadi §uf I Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd (d. ca. 298/ 
910) says in a letter to one of his fellow §ufis: 

There the intellects of the intellectuals lose 
their way, the learnings of the learned halt and 
the achievements of the wisdom of the wise come to 
an end. This is the limit of what can be described; 
this is the point where all descriptions come to 
an end. Beyond this there is a barrier till the 
Day of Resurrection.^ - 

§ufxs, nevertheless, try to express their 
experiences; for, they feel that they are called upon 
to do so; it is their duty to reach the people and to 
guide them on the right path. But since, in doing this, 
they realize the inadequacy of language, they resort 


to the use of symbols. But these symbols can only 
provide a stimulus to arouse a mystical experience in 

_ ^Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd, Rasa’il , ed. A.H. 4 Abd al- 
Qadir in The Life, Personality and Writings of al- 
Junayd (London: Luzac & Co. Ltd., 1962), p. 3 • 


R.A. Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam (London: 

G. Bell & Sons Ltd., I9l4), p. 103. " 


a person who has had a similar experience already. In 
another letter to a friend, al-Junayd says. 

This is an indication of something which cannot be 
further explained. (Then) this cannot be understood 

by any kind of indication, but only through the 

very experience which has been described. I have 

wrapped up what this (letter) contains and have 

not explained it clearly. Take this (letter) 

(keeping in mind that) it (the truth) cannot be 

obtained except through experience.^ 

Hence symbolical expressions also "are little better 


than leaps in the dark." 

In view of the difficulties mentioned above, 
how is it at all possible for us to understand Abu 
Yazld's experience since we do not claim to be §ufls 
ourselves? Our answer is that it is possible for us, 
with the help of sympathetic imagination, to gain at 
least some measure of insight into mystical experience. 
Therefore, we have proceeded in our task of under- 
standing, analysing and describing Abu Yazld's mystical 
experience as carefully as possible. We would, neverthe- 
less, emphasise that this is our understanding, our 
analysis and our description of the same at second hand 

Al-Junayd, RasjTjLl, p. 45. 


Nicholson, Mystics , p. 148. 


and thus may fall short of the reality. 

2. We have used the expression 'Abu Yazld' s 
thought' and have characterised Abu Yazld as a 
'thinker'. We have also discussed his 'doctrines' in 
this work. But Abu Yazld was not a thinker in the sense 
of a logical systematic thinker, nor did he ever cons- 
ciously formulate a doctrine as a theoretician of 
§uflsm does. As far as we know, he did not write a 
treatise of any kind. In fact, it is quite possible 
that Abu Yazld would not understand what is meant by 
the doctrine of shatabat , for example, under which later 
writers on §uflsm as well as ourselves have classified 
his strange utterances. What we have termed as Abu 
Yazld' s 'thought' and 'doctrines' are our own deduc- 
tions on the basis of our understanding of his sayings 
and the reports of his d.66u.S collected from various 

We have, moreover, used expressions such as 
'Abu Yazld achieved tawbid (unification)', ‘Abu Yazld 
attained ma* rifah ("knowledge")', and the like. From a 
strictly §ufl point of view, these expressions are not 
quite correct. Many §ufis, including Abu Yazld, say 
that a §ufi does not 'achieve' tawbid or 'attain' 
ma* rifah by his own efforts, but that these are God's 


gifts given by Him to His chosen ones. We have, never- 
theless, used these expressions merely for the sake of 
convenience • 

3. We are conscious of some of the shortcomings 
of this dissertation. We are aware, for example, that 
there is so much to discuss concerning Abu Yazid's 
mi* ra,j (spiritual ascension) and his notion of ma* rifah 
that we might have treated these topics more thorough- 
ly in separate chapters rather than putting them toge- 
ther in the chapter on Tawhid . Abu Yazld also had some- 
thing to say about many other §ufl doctrines that we 
have not dealt with in the thesis, e.g., the doctrines 
of mababbah (love) and tawakkul (trust), etc. We have 
done no more than merely mention some of these in this 

There is another shortcoming of which we are 
aware. We have shown in most cases and as exhaustively 
as possible the existence of the same or variant 
readings in some other text or texts than in the one 
cited first. But we have not been able to do this in 
some cases, despite the fact that we have knowledge of 
the existence of the same or variant readings for 
these elsewhere. 


The author promises to correct these defi- 
ciencies when, soon after his return to his country, 
he will begin revising his work with a view to making 
it available in printed form to students of §uflsm as 
well as to others. 

4. In most cases, the translations of Arabic 
and Persian texts quoted in this work are ours. In a 
few cases we have used the translation of another but 
only after we checked and found it satisfactory. 

In translating texts, we have tried to keep as 
close to their literal meanings as possible. 

5. We have used some important terms and expres- 
sions, e.g., ma* rifah , tawhld . etc. in their original 
Arabic forms. We have either translated or explained 
these terms at least once when they first occur. 

6. Whenever necessary, we have indicated dates 
according to the Islamic and the Christian calendars. 
The first of these represents the Islamic era (A.H.) 
and the second the Christian era (A.D.). In many cases, 


we have depended on H. Ritter^" for these dates. In 
other cases where we have depended on Arabic and Per- 


sian sources, we have used Sir W. Haig’s tables in 
converting the Islamic dates to Christian dates. 

7. We have followed the transliteration system 
of the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill University. 
We are attaching herewith a copy of this system. 

^H. Ritter, Das Meer der Seele: Mensch. Welt und 
Gott in den Geschichten des ffariduddin 1 Attar (Leyden: 
E.J. krill, "Analytischer index' 1 , pp. £>72-777 • 

^Lt. Col. Sir W. Haig, Comparative Tables of 
Muhammadan [sic] and Christian Dates CLahore: 

Sh. Huljammad Ashraf, n.d.J. 



Chapter I 


In our attempt to study the life and teachings 
of Abu Yazid ^ayfur b. 4 Isa b. Sharushan al-Bis'fcami 
(d. 234/848),^ we are faced with the problem of the 
authenticity of the source material. As far as we know, 
Abu Yazid did not write anything himself; nor are we 
aware of any writing by anyone who, having been asso- 
ciated with him directly, witnessed his sayings and 
deeds. Later authors of §ufl literature have preserved, 
in a scattered form, Abu Yazid *s sayings and the reports, 
of his deeds; these were received, either directly or 
indirectly, as oral traditions from his disciples, 


friends and visitors. But oral traditions, by their 
very nature, are more susceptible to fabrication and 
thus less dependable as a source than written material. 
Moreover, there was a time-gap that existed between the 
period when Abu Yazid lived and the period when many 

^"Por more on the date of his death, infra , pp . 47-49 . 


Por information on some of them, infra , pp. 99-108. 


of his traditions were recorded for the first time. 
Hence we should be aware that there exists a problem 
regarding the reliability of the material. 


However, this problem is not an insurmountable 
one. As we shall soon see, factors such as the honesty 
and trustworthiness of most of the early §ufl authors, 
the proximity of some of them to Abu Yazld's time, and 
both the internal consistency of the meanings of the 
traditions in each work and the consistency of the pic- 
ture of Abu Yazld's personality given by all the works* 
give credibility to most of their material. 

We shall now describe and evaluate briefly, 
under two categories, the important sources from which 
we have derived information for this dissertation. The 
first of these will include the works of Muslim authors 
who were either §ufls themselves or lived in a §ufl 
atmosphere. These works constitute the main source of 
information on Abu Yazld but cannot be called 'primary 
sources' which, in the usually accepted sense, would 
refer to Abu Yazld's own writing or to the writing of 
someone who had witnessed his sayings and deeds. Hence 

^Henceforth, in this chapter, we shall use the word 
'consistency' in both these senses. 


we shall designate these works as 'major sources.' The 
second category will include studies on Abu Yazld by 
modern scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim and shall 
be designated as 'minor sources'. 

1. Major Sources 

i) Al-Junayd 

The great Baghdadi §ufl and the author of 

several works on §uflsm, Abu al-Qasim al-Junayd (d. ca., 

298/910), has quoted and written commentaries on some 
of Abu Yazld' s shatahat . Fragments of these have been 
preserved in the Kitab al-Luma ‘ by Abu Na§r ‘Abd Allah 

•h?or al-Junayd' s life, personality, works and 
teachings, see ‘Abd al-Qadir, al-Junayd , and ‘Abdu-r- 
Rabb, al-Junayd . Since ‘Abd al-Qadir' s work contains 
many errors, one should read it with great caution. His 
translation of al-Junayd 's Rasa* il , which constitutes a 
part of this book, is especially defective. R.C. Zaehner 
has retranslated one of these Rasa* il in his Hindu and 
Muslim Mysticism ((London: The University of London, I960], 
pp. 218-224). ‘Abd al-Qadir lists the works written by 
and wrongly attributed to, al-Junayd ( al-Junayd , pp. 59-65). 

^Abu Na§r ‘Abd Allah al-Sarraj, Kitab al-Luma‘ fl al- 
Tasawwuf, ed. R.A. Nicholson (Leyden: E.J'. Brill, 1914J, 

Students of §uflsm will ever remain grateful to 
Nicholson for this excellent edition of the work, and to 
A.J. Arberry, Nicholson's pupil, for his edition of a 
newly discovered section of the book ( Pages from the 
Kitab al-Luma * [ London: Luzac & Co., 1947]) . 

To distinguish between Nicholson' s edition of Luma‘ 
and Arberry' s edition of its newly discovered section, we 
shall refer to the former as Luma 1 and to the latter as 
Pages . 


al-Sarraj (d. 378/988). Al-Junayd became .acquainted with 
Abu Yazid's teachings within some thirty years of the 
latter's death. He learnt of these teachings from hie 
own uncle and master Sari al-Saqa-fci (d. ca. 251/865)* 
the founder of the Baghdad school of Jgufism, who may 
have met Abu Yazid personally,^ - and from two celebrated 
§ufis of Khurasan, Yaljya b. Mu‘adh al-Razi (d. 258/ 

872) and Abu ]Jaf § al-§addad (d. ca. 267/880), who were 
friends and associates of both Abu Yazid and al-Junayd. 
These three personalities all died within some thirty 
years of Abu Yazid 'jj^Leath. 

We do not know exactly when al-Junayd recorded 

and commented on some of Abu Yazid's shatabat ♦ It is 

possible that al-Junayd wrote part of the commentaries 

in the last decade of his ( al-Junayd 's) life and part 


at an earlier period e-' 

■■ ■ ' - JK- 1 " ' ' 

1 Infra . p. 48, and n. 3 of the same page. 

^Infra, pp. 104-105; 140, n. 2, and *Abd al-Qadir, 
al-Junayd . pp. 29-31 • 

Af®*Junayd may have learned Abu Yazid's teachings 
from other common friends %nd associates also. 

^ Infra . pp. 284-285* * 

We do not know if some written documents on Abu 
Yazid's teachings were available to al-Junayd. However, 
we cannot accept * Abd al-Qadir' s statement that al-Junayd 



al-Sarraj (d. 378/988). Al-Junayd became .acquainted with 
Abu Yazid's teachings within some thirty years of the 
latter's death. He learnt of these teachings from his 
own uncle and master Sari al-Saqa^I (d. ca. 251/865)* 
the founder of the Baghdad school of §ufism, who may 
have met Abu Yazid personally and from two celebrated 
§ufls of Khurasan, Yafcya b. Mu‘adh al-Razi (d. 258/ 

872) and Abu ?af § al-§addad (d. ca. 267/880) , who were 
friends and associates of both Abu Yazid and al-Junayd. 
These three personalities all died within some thirty 
years of Abu Yazid's death. 

We do not know exactly when al-Junayd recorded 
and commented on some of Abu Yazid's shatabat . It is 
possible that al-Junayd wrote part of the commentaries 
in the last decade of his (al-Junayd 1 s) life and part 
at an earlier period. ^ 

1 Infra, p. 48, and n. 3 of the same page. 

^Infra, pp. 104-105; 140, n. 2, and ‘Abd al-Qadir, 
al-Junayd . pp. 29-31* 

Al-Junayd may have learned Abu Yazid's teachings 
from other common friends and associates also. 

^Infra, pp. 284-285. 

We do not know if some written documents on Abu 
Yazid's teachings were available to al-Junayd. However, 
we cannot accept ‘Abd al-Qadir' s statement that al-dunayd 


Some of al-Junayd's commentaries on Abu Yazld's 
gk a 1f a frat may have been influenced by the situation of 
crisis in which. §uflsm found itself during the latter 
part of al-Junayd's life. 1 But al-Junayd, a reputable 
§ufl and a respected scholar, had come to know Abu 
Yazld's teachings, shortly after the latter's death, 
directly from respectable §ufis who had been associated 
with Abu Yazld; he then wrote a book, or treatises, 
from which al-Sarraj has quoted. All this shows that 
al-Junayd is a valuable and dependable source of in- 
formation on Abu Yazld's teachings. 

ii) Al-Sarraj 

The oldest systematic work available to us on 
the doctrines and practices of the early §ufls is Kitab 
al-Luma* by Abu Na§r ‘Abd Allah al-Sarraj (d. 378/988) 
of Tus, surnamed the "Peacock of the Poor" ( ta’us 

learned Abu Yazld's teachings from his books (al- 

^ = taa Y < ^ * P» 31) » for, Abu Yazid, as far as we know, 
not himself write any book. 


Infra , p, 



Supra . 

P. 3»n. 

2 . 


al-fuqara * 


Born in a .family of !{us noted for asceticism, 
al-Sarraj was a §ufl himself and §ufl masters have re- 
garded him as an authoritative exponent of their doc- 
trines and practices. Moreover, his Luma* is a very 
well-documented work. He has drawn his material from 
written works as well as from oral traditions. When he 

quotes from a book, and there were many books available 

to him, he cites the name of the author and the title 
of the work. As for the oral traditions contained in 
the Luma * , forty names are cited as first hand autho- 
rities for these traditions.^ Many of these authorities, 

Abd al-Raljman JamI A Nafabat al-Uns min Hadarat a'l- 
Quds .ed. Mahdl Tawbldl Pur (Tehran: Ketab Furdshl Sa*dl 
1918) , p. 28J; Abu al-$asan al-Jullabi al-Hujwirl, Kashf 
al-Mab.iub , ed. V. Zuhkofski (Tehrin: Mu’assasat-i MafBu*at-i 
Amir Kabxr, 1957) > p» 4-17 (Nicholson has translated 
this work into English in a slightly abridged form 
[Leyden: E.J. Brill, 1911]); Farid al-Din Aftar, 

Tadhkirat al-Awliy a . ed. R.A. Nicholson (Leyden: E.J. 
Brill, 1905), il, 182 (A.J. Arberry has translated 
selections from the Tadhkirat in Muslim Saints and 
Mystics [London: Rout ledge and Kegan Paul, 1966]. Claud 
Field also has translated parts of the Tadhkirat in 
his Mystics and Saints of Islam Tijondon: Francis 
GriflTfh's, 1916]). 


For a list of books from which al-Sarraj drew his 
material, see Nicholson's Introduction to Luma*, 
pp. xi-xii. We should mention, however, that al-Sarraj's 
information about his sources, as shown by Nicholson, 
is not complete ( ibid . , p. xi) . 


For a list of these names with a brief notice on 
each, see ibid . , pp. xiii-xxii. 


e.g., Ja 4 far b. Muljammad al-Khuldi (d. 348/959)^ and 
Abu al-]Jasan Aljmad b. Muljammad ibn Salim (d. 380/970) » 
were eminent men. Further, in order to verify the 
authenticity of some traditions, al-Sarraj sometimes 
travelled to distant places and made enquiries from the 
people of the locality about these traditions. This 
shows that he was very cautious in the selection of 

^Al-Sarraj must also have read al-Khuldi' s Bikayat 
al-Awliya * (on this work, see 4 Abd al-Qadir, al-Junayd , 
pp . xii-xiii) . The same can be said of Abu Sa*id b. 
A^rabi's (d. 341/952) Tabaqat al-Nussak (see ibid . . 
pp. x-xiii). 

These two valuable books on early §uflsm by two of 
al-Junayd's disciples have_unfortunately been lost. But 
all the later authors of §ufi literature drew their ma- 
terial from these sources directly or indirectly. Al- 
Sarraj, who also belongs to the Junaydian tradition of 
§ufism, does not mention these two works by name, al-_ 
though he cites Kitab al-Wa.jd , another work of Ibn AVabi 
(Luma 4 , pp. 308, 310 and 3^4). In any case, he does not, 
as we have seen already ( supra , p.6,n ; ft),cite all his 
sources of information. 

Al-Sarraj may have had access to a book on Abu 
Yazid's teachings (manaqib ) . We know that this book was 
written before 395/1005* 5?he author of Qasd ila Allah , 
written on or after the above date_ (Nicholson, "An Early 
Arabic Version of the Mi 4 ra.i of Abu Yazid al-Bis-fcaml" , 
Islamica, II [1926-1927], p. 402. In this article x 
Nicholson has edited and translated Ru ya Abl Yazid fi 
Qasd 4 ila Allah Ta 4 ala wa Bayan Qissatihi which is the 
ninth chapter of Qagd jread tne book on Abu Yazid's 
teachings (ibid., p. 403). We are not sure, however, who 
wrote the book and when exactly it was written. On the_ 
basis of Massignon's reference to 4 All b. Abd al -Ragman 
al-Qannad (d. ca. 340/951) as a source of information on 
Abu Yazid (L. Massignon, Essai sur les origins s du 
lexique technique mystique musulmane [Paris; Librairie 
Philosophique, J. Vrin, 1954], p. Massignon does not 

mention any evidence to support his statement), Nicholson 
says that Kitab Manaoib Abi Yazid [sic] may have been 
compiled by al-Qannad. But Ipgoi Khalifah (d_. 1068/1657) 
mentions this book as Manaqib Bayazid Bistami li-YQsuf 


traditions for his work. Aside from quoting traditions 
from §ufis, either from written works or from oral 
sources, in connection with any particular subject, ai- 
Sarraj also gives his own opinion on matters. But he 
does not leave any doubt for the reader as to when he 
is quoting and when he is giving his own opinion. 

Luma* is of special importance as a source-book 
on Abu Yazld. Al-Sarraj lived in a period of crisis of 
gufism. 1 The attitude of orthodox 2 Muslims, especially 

T-- y^ amm f d w 3 huwa Kitab Farisi (see his Kashf al- 
fej - gjTC a fc £u ^ - ,Y a aj-rFu gun [Istanbul: Matba* 

„ -d? . » 1 184lJ. This shows that Manaaib was 

a Persian work by one Yusuf b. Muhammad. Prom this it 
i, s ?l®°. clear that Manaqib was not Kit&b al-NUr. Ha-i-iT 
Khalifah mentions Nur as Kitab al-Ifar .Abi Yazld ai- 3 
probably to describe the contents of Nur. This 
argument is further supported by the fact thairfajji 
Khalifah puts a dash sign between Kitab a l-Nur and fi 
2§5|§ik_Abi X?zid al-Bistaml.and that the author of 

as Mtib mi manaqib Abl 

1 PaK93 , pp. 7-10. 


Orthodoxy means a common voice. To speak with a 
common voice necessitates the existence of an authority, 
e.g., the Pope of Cat&oiic Christianity. But since there 
is no such authority in Islam, strictly speaking we 
cannot speak of Islamic orthodoxy. Nevertheless, in the 
absence of a better terminology, we shall refer to Sunni 
Muslims as orthodox, although the Shi* ah are perhaps 
more orthodox than the Sunni in the sense we have 
defined orthodoxy. 


of the ‘ulama’ (pi. of * alim , one learned in religious 
sciences) of the time to §uflsm, was one of suspicion 
and hostility.'*' This situation led to the rise of a 
number of apologists for §ufism of whom al-3arraj was 
one. To meet the need of the time, al-Sarraj tried 

to set forth the true principles of §uflsm and to 
show by argument that they agree with, and are 
confirmed by, the doctrines of the Koran and the 
Apostolic traditions; that they involve imitation 
of the Prophet and his Companions as well as con- 
formity with the religious practice of pious 

Now, since in most cases the shatahat of the Sufis 
were misunderstood and thus became a source of trouble, 
al-Sarraj has devoted chapters to the explanation of 
what the shatahat mean and how these can be made com- 
patible with the teachings of Shari 4 ah (Islamic Law). 
Naturally, therefore, he talks a great deal about the 
shatahat of Abu Yazid;^ for, his shatahat were the most 
daring of all and thus became a subject of controversy 
among both §ufls and non-§ufis. In addition to quoting 

■*"Por more on this, infra , pp. 280-281. 


Nicholson's Introduction to Luma 4 , p. v. 


We have discussed these in Chapter V, pp. 275-299. 

some of the shatahat and their interpretations by al- 
Junayd and adding his own interpretations to these, 
al-Sarraj quotes from his debate with Ibn Salim in an 
assembly in Bagrah 1 on the shatahat of Abu Yazid. He 
even took the trouble of visiting Bis-fcam with a view 
to verifying the authenticity of some of Abu Yazid' s 
shatahat. 2 Apart from the shatahat . Luma * also mentions 
many traditions concerning Abu Yazid in connection with 
different subjects. 

On the basis of the above discussion, we may 
conclude that, as in the case of al-Junayd, al-Sarraj's 
interpretations of some of the shatahat of Abu Yazid 
may have been influenced by his desire to defend Abu 
Yazid against orthodox attack. But the fact that al- 
Sarraj was himself a respected §ufl, that he was 
accepted by §ufls as an authoritative exponent of their 
doctrines and practices, that he quotes from written 
sources and, in most cases, cites the sources from 
which he quotes, and that he exhibits great caution in 
determining the authenticity of traditions included in 

1 Luma‘, pp. 390 - 395 . 

2 Ibid. , p. 391 

We should note, however, that his motive was to 
show the compatibility of §ufl teachings with orthodox 
Islam, _but this does not affect the authenticity of the 
shatahat contained in the Luma* • 


his work, favour the credibility of the material in 
Luma * • Allowing for the natural weaknesses of its 
oral traditions, especially because al-Sarrig was 
removed from Abu Yazld's time by more than one hundred 
years, we accept Luma * as an important and dependable 
source of information on Abu Yazid. 

iii) Al-KalabadhI 

Another small but very important book on early 
§uflsm is Kitab al-Ta* arruf li-Madhhab Ahl al-Tasawwuf ^ 
of Abu Bakr Muljammad al— KalabadhI (d. 385 / 995 ) » a. native 
of Bukhara. He wrote this compendium with the same pur- 
pose of defending §uflsm against the attack of orthodox 
Muslims. ^ 

Abu Bakr Muljammad al— KalabadhI, Kitab al-Ta* arruf 
li-Madhhab Ahl al-Tagawwuf (Cairo: Dar Iljya Kutub al- 
Arabiyyah, I960;. 

A.J. Arberry has translated this book into English 
as The Doctrine of the Sufis (Cambridge: The University 
Press, 1935 ). 


In the beginning of the book, he takes up the 
essential points of Islamic theology one by one and 
shows that §ufls have accepted each one of these. As 
a proof of this he cites the sayings of §ufls at 
every instance. After having_done this, he describes 
briefly the characteristic §ufl doctrines section by 


Al-KalabadhI drew the material for Ta* arruf 
primarily from written works. He had access to a vast 
amount of §ufl literature, which is indicated by his 
long list of the §ufis^" who wrote books and treatises 
on §ufism. He not only read all the works available to 
him, but also discussed mystical matters with some of 
their authors. He says that he wrote Ta* arruf "having 
first thoroughly studied the writings of those who are 
versed in this matter, and sifted the stories of those 
who have attained a true realization of it: moreover I 
have associated with such men, and questioned them."^ 
Furthermore, al-Kalabadhl was a very honest and trust- 
worthy author^ so that §ufls held Ta* arruf in high 
esteem and regarded it as an authoritative text book 
on their doctrines. The oft-quoted saying of the emi- 
nent §ufl Suhrawardi al-Maqtul (d. 587/1191), "But for 
the Ta* arruf we should not have known Sufism"? is a 
clear indication of this. The esteem in which Ta* arruf 
was held is also shown by the fact that several 

1 Ta* arruf . pp. 30-32. 


Ibid., p. 20} trans. Arberry, Doctrine, p. 4. 


We do not know much about his life. But it is 
possible that he was a §ufl. 


Arberry' s Introduction to Doctrine . p. xii. 


commentaries were written on this work. x In view of 
this evidence, we can accept la * * * 4 arruf as a valuable and 
dependable source of information on early §uflsm. 

It is disappointing to note that Ta 4 arruf does 
not contain much information on Abu Yazld. Al-KalabadhI 
mentions Abu Yazld only five times: once when he lists 
the names of the famous §ufls, thrice in connection 

_ 7 

with the §ufi sayings concerning angels and prophets - ' 
and once when he talks about §ufis being at ease with 

h T _ _ T 

God. Badawi explains al-Kalabadhi 1 s relative silence 
on Abu Yazid by saying that the problem of shatabat was 
no longer in the forefront during the last quarter of 
the fourth century A.H.^ We cannot agree with Badawi 
for several reasons. Al-Sarraj and al-Kalabadhi were 
contemporaries. Although it is true that al-Sarraj was 
some ten years younger and that Luma 4 might have been 
written a few years before Ta 4 arruf . both lived and 

•^ Ibid . , pp . xii-xiii . 

^ Ta 4 arruf , p. 29. 

^Ibid. , pp. 69 and 70. 

4 Ibid ., p. 91. 

^Badawi, Shatabat , p. 17. 

wrote in more or less the same atmosphere. Hence it 
seems incorrect to say that al-Sarrij deals with the 
Problem of shatabat at length because this problem was 
in the forefront when he wrote Luma * and that al- 
Kalabadhi is silent about it because the problem had 
lost its strength during his time. 

Moreover, al-Kalibadhi himself has discussed 
many poems of al-JJusayn b. Man§ur al-^allaj (d. 309/ 
922), although the author, as shown by Massignon,^" refers 
to him only as "one of the great §ufis", and not by' 
name. We can also argue that shatabat constitute only 
one aspect of Abu Yazid's teachings. He spoke on zuhd 
(asceticism), ma*rifah , mahabbah etc,, and al-Kalabadhl 
does not mention him even in connection with these 

How then can we explain al-Kalabadhi ' s silence 
about Abu Yazid's utterances which were even more 
extreme than those of al-§allaj? Perhaps al-Kalabadhl 
feared that incorporating these might defeat the puipose 
of writing Ta arruf . viz., the defence of §ufism against 
the attack of orthodox Muslims. The very fact that he 
does not mention al-§allaj by name indicates the 

1 Essai (Textes Hallajiens), pp. 346-358. 


presence of this fear in his mind. Or, it might be that 
since al-Kalabadhi was a representative of the JJallajdan 
tradition of mysticism 1 just as al-Sahlagi was an adhe- 
rent of the Jayfuri tradition, 2 he did not have good 
reasons for bringing Abu Yazld to the forefront. 

iv) Al-Sulaml 

Kitab Tabaqat al-Sufiyyah ^ by Abu ‘Abd al-Raljmin 
Muhammad al-Sulami (d. 412/1021) of Naysabur is one of 
the earliest biographies of §ufls. It contains a number 
of narratives about kbu Yazid's life and thought. 

A disciple of al-Sarraj, 4 al-Sulami drew his 
material from the works on §ufism available to him as 
well as from oral traditions. He rea d books such as 

V* ?•?• Anawati and L. Gardet, Mystique misulmane. 

j -. P V^,l96!)fg? e f^F 4rl?nngA - et 


Infra , p.25, n. 

3 - c 

Abd al-Ra]jm5n Muhammad al-Sulami, KitSb 
f§b^i? at al ~^ uflyyah * ed * J * Pede ^sen (Leyden: E.J. Brill, 

Al-Sulami wrote other books on Sufism. His small 

(CaLf^Us a }~u?K" ma ?yfeg (1, Ab5 al 7‘ A la l Afifi 
4 4> * * Isa al-BSbl al— JjaTabi, 1945), is our best source of 

information on the doctrines and practices of the 
Malamatiyyah sect of §ufis. 


Pedersen's Introduction to Tabaqat . p. 25. 


Luma * , and travelled extensively in the Islamic world 
to collect and verify the material of his work. 1 Some 
of the sources of his oral traditions were such 
eminent men as al-Sarraj and ‘Abd Allah Rudhbarx 
(d. ca. 367/999) « 2 * * 5 A §ufl himself,^ al-Sulami' s Tabaqat 
came to be accepted as an established authority on the 
life and thought of the early §ufls and became an 
important source for many later writers on the subject. 
In particular, it formed the basis of Abu ‘Abd Allah al- 
An§arl al-HarawI's (d. 481/1089) Tabaqat al-Suf iyyah^ 
written in the Persian dilect of Herat and this, 
in turn, became one of the main sources of the famous 
Hafahat of Jaml. In view of all this, we can say of 
Tabaqat basically the same as we have said of Luma * : 
to wit, that allowing for the weaknesses of its oral 
traditions — and in this case there are greater weak- 
nesses because al-Sulami was farther removed in time 
from Abu Yazld than al-Sarraj — we can accept Tabaqat 

1 Ibid. , pp. 20-21. 

^Ibid. , pp. 76 and 78. 

For a list of the direct transmission of traditions 

to al-Sulami, see ibid., pp. 74— 89. 

5 Ibid., p. 19. 

, — — — 

Abu Abd Allah al-An§arI al-Harawi, Tabaqat al- 

j=>ufijyah (Kabul: The Historical Society of Afghanistan, 


as dependable source material on Abu Yazid's life and 

v) Abu Nu‘aym 

Another important work on the lives and teachings 
of early §ufls written in the pattern of al-Sulami's 
Tabaqat is Abu Nu‘aym Atynad al-I§bahani' s (d. 430A038) 
Bilyat al-Awliya 1 . This is a valuable encyclopaedic work 
printed in ten volumes. There are many references to 
Abu Yazid in this book; volume X is especially valuable 
for our purpose. 

Abu Nu‘aym's gilyah is perhaps the most valuable 
work on §ufi biography and thought up to his time. 
Volumes IX and X contain very well-documented informa- 
tion on the §ufls of the third and fourth/ninth and tenth 
centuries. He quotes from many authors of §ufl litera- 
ture as well as from oral traditions. At the end of the 
chapter on Abu Yazid, he asks the reader to consult al- 
Sulami's Tabaqat for more information. 2 Abu Yazid's 
traditions in gilyah both agree with and vary from those 

■^Abu Nu‘aym Afcmad al-I§bahani, gilyat al-Awliya* wa 
Tabaqat al-Asfiya (Cairo: Maktabat al-KhSnajl and 
na^ba at al-Sa l §dah, 1932-1938). 

2 gilyah , X . 41-42. 


of the other works mentioned above; however, since they 
give us a consistent picture of his personality, we 
accept Bilyah as a dependable source of information on 
Abu Yazid. 

vi) Al-QushayrI 

Perhaps the most esteemed and most popular work 
ever written on §ufism in Arabic is the Risalah 1 of Abu 
al-Qasim 4 Abd al-Karim al-Qushayri (d. in fus, 465A072) 
of Naysabur. This work quotes Abu Yazld's traditions in 
connection with several §ufi doctrines and practices. 


A disciple of Sulami, al-Qushayri was a very 
conscientious author. He documents his information care- 
fully. When he quotes from written works, he cites his 
authorities,^ and when he narrates oral traditions, he 

^Abu al-Qasim 4 Abd al-Karim al-Qushayri^ Al-Risalat 
al-Qushayriyyah (Cairo: Ma-fcba 4 Mu§-fcafa al-Babx, 1959,). 

A Persian version of_this work is now available to 
us in print (Badi 4 ^al-Zaman Furuzanfar, Tar.iumeye . 
RisSleye Qushayriye [Tehran: Bangahe Taroume wa Nashre 
Ketab, 19b7];. 

^Pedersen's Introduction to Tabaqat , p. 23. 

_ ^<As one of his sources, .gkQushayn used al-Sulami's 
Tarikh al-Sufiyyah which is no longer extant (Massignon, 
"Ana al-Haqq", Per Islam . Ill [1912], p. 248, n. 2a. 


gives the complete chain of narrators going back to the 
original witness. Risalah was held in high esteem and 
became a ’must* for the study of all later scholars on 
§uflsm. Many commentaries were written on this work. 1 
Although Abu Yazid's traditions in Risalah do not always 
agree with those of other works such as Luma* , Tabaqat 
and gilyah , they give us a consistent picture of Abu 
Yazid's personality. On the basis of this evidence, we 
consider Risalah a dependable source material on Abu 
Yazid's life and thought. 

vii) Al-Hujwlrl 

One of the oldest and most celebrated treatises 
on §ufxsm in Persian is Kashf al-Mah.iub 2 by Abu al-^asan 
al-Juilabl al-HujwIrl (d. ca. 469/1076). A contemporary 
al-Qushayri , al=HujwirI was born in Ghazna in Afghanis- 
tan and travelled extensively in the Muslim world. During 
his travels, he met many important §ufls, one of whom 
was al-Sahlagi in Bissau. ^ He died in Lahore, in today's 
Pakistan, where his tomb still exists. 

^One such comentary was written by 
Zakarlya al-An§ari ( 

supra , p. 6, n. 1. 

the celebrated 
of Cairo. 

For the date of al-HujwIrls death, 
Preface to Kashf, pp. xviii-xix. 

see Nicholson's 

^Kashf, p. 205. 


References to Abu Yazid in Kashf are plentiful. 

In his very important chapter, “Concerning the Doctrines 
of the Sects of §ufls" , al-Hu^wirl has devoted a long 
section to the discussion of the (fayfuris i.e., Abu 
Yazid' s followers.’*’ 

Al-Hujwlrl was himself a §ufl. Whenever he dis- 
cusses a problem of §uflsm, be, like al-Sarraj, concludes 
with his own views based on his own personal experiences 
as a §ufl. In this respect, Kashf is much more interesting 
than Risalah. As for the source material for his Kashf . 
al-HujwIrl used such works as Luma * , Tabaqat and 
Risalah , as well as oral traditions. Although al-Hu0w3ri 
was quite far removed from Abu Yazid' s time, his repu- 
tation as a §ufl and as an author, his use of such works 
as Luma * , Tabaqat and Risalah j and the consistency of 
Abu Yazid' s traditions quoted in Kashf support the depend- 
ability of Kashf as a source material on Abu Yazid. But 
here again we should remember the weaknesses of oral 
traditions which also constituted a source of al-Hujvnrl's 

Before we proceed to consider other important 
works, we would like to say that all later works on 

1 Infra, p. 109. 


§uf!sm have drawn their information on Abu Yazid from 
such works as Luma * , Ta*arruf . Tabaglt . Hilyah . Risalah 
and Kashf and thus are derived sources* From now on, 
therefore, with the exception of two very important 
sources — Nur and Tadhkirat — we shall only briefly 
describe the works and their relevance as source mate- 
rial on Abu Yazid, and not discuss the question of their 

viii) Al-An§arl 

We have already mentioned Abu ‘Abd Allah al- 
An§arl al-HarawI's (d. 481/1089) Tabaqat al-Suf iyyah .^ 
This was compiled in the Herat! dialect of Persian by 
one of his disciples from notes which he took during 
his master's lectures which were based on the Tabaqat 
of al-Sulaml. As a §ufl himself, al-An§ari added his 
own observations in the course of the lectures. We find 
several notices of Abu Yazid in this work. 

ix) Al-Sahlagi 

Our most complete source of information on Abu 
Yazid is Kitab al-Nur min Kalimat Abl Tayfur of Abu 

1 Supra , p. 16, n. 4. 

Supra , p . xi, n. 1. 

Badawi has prepared this edition of Nur on the basis 


al-Fa<3Y Muhammad al-Sahlagl (ca. 389/998 — 

of two manuscripts: No. 6784 of the Maktabat al-Awqaf 
in Baghdad and a private manuscript belonging to L. 
Massignon at Arles in France which is itself a copy of 
Takiyyat al-Mawlawiyyah in Tripoli (Badawl, Shatahat, 
p. 39). For more on these manuscripts, see ibid . 7 
pp. 40-43. 

The editor does not doubt the authenticity of the 
title of the book, but he is not sure about the name of 
its author ( ibid . , p. 39) • He says, “Perhaps he is an 
unknown author who collected the scattered information 
about Abu Yazid al-Bistaml" (ibid., p. 40). We think, 
however, that there is hardly any room for doubt about 
the name of the author. Badawi himself has pointed out 
that al-Sahlagl is given as the author's name in the 
Arles manuscript and that Prof. Massignon has drawn our 
attention to this fact ( ibid . The manuscript mentions 
the name of al-Sahlagl in_the following way: Kitabal- 
Nur li-1— Sahlagi fl Kalimat al— Bistaml j . We have further 
evidence to prove the authorship of al-Sahlagl. In his 
Tadhkirat, Attar quotes al-Sahlagl by name in the 
following way: 

4 Isa of Bistam says, "I associated with the master 
(Abu Yazid) for thirty years, but I never heard him 
utter a single word. This was his habit. He used to 
put his head on his knees, and when he raised it, 
he would sigh and then would return to the previous 
condition." It is reported that al-Sahlagl said 
that this happened in a state of contraction ( qabd ) . 
Otherwise, on days when he was in a state of expan- 
sion ( bast ) , everyone would derive great benefit 
from him ( i . e . , from his actions and speech) 
( Tadhkirat . I, 140). 

This is almost an_exact translation into the Persian of 
what we find in Nur (p. 141). Hence we can safely con- 
clude . that al-Sahlagl is the author of the book in 
question (R.C. Zaehner arrives at the same conclusion 
in his "Abu Yazid of Bistam: A Turning Point in 
Islamic Mysticism", Indo-Iranian Journal, I [19571, 
290-291, n. 14). 

_ Aside from Nur , Shatahat includes narratives about 
Abu Yazid as contained in Mir a at al-Zaman of Sibt b. al- 
JawzI (d. 655/1237), Nafabat of J5ml (.not the Persian 
original^of Naf abat , but an Arabic translation of it by 
Taj al-Dln Zakariya al- 4 UthmanI) and Tabaqat al-Sufiyyah 
of al-Sulaml. In the introduction of _this book, Badawi has 
also discussed the problem of shatahat in §uflsm. 


486/1093) In view of the importance of Nur for our 
work and since its author is not well known, we shall 
talk of him and of his work in some detail. 


A native of Bis-fcam, al-Sahlagl was a contempo- 
rary of al-Qushayrl and al-HujwIrl . In fact al-Hujwiri 
personally met al-Sahlagl and heard traditions from him . * 2 * 4 5 

Al-Sahlagl travelled extensively and heard tra- 
ditions from many^ufl masters and narrators of Prophetic 
Traditions. He was a vastly learned man and the author 
of several works. ^ 

lt Abd al-Karim al-Sam‘anI, Kitab al-Ansab (Levden: 
E.J. Brill, 1912), fol. 81 b. 

Kitab al-Ansab mentions 476 as the year of al- 
Sahlagi ' s death and 389 as the year of his birth. One 
of these two figures must be incorrect, for Sam‘anl men- 
tions in words that al-Sahlagl lived for 97 years (ibid.). 
Hence, either he was bom in 389 and died in 486, or he 
was born in 379 and died in 476. It is easy for the 
copier of an Arabic manuscript to make a mistake in 
writing 7 (V) in place of 8 (A) and vice versa, for 
Arabic 8 is only an up-side down position of Arabic 7. 

2 Ibid. 

5 Supra . p. 19 . 

4 t — 

Al-Sam am, Ansab, for. 81. b. 

We do not know the title of any other of his works 
except Nur. 


He was himself an important §ufx of his time. 

We are told by al— Hujwiri that al— Sahlagx was the imam 
(leader) of the §ufxs of the region.^" A disciple and the 
able successor of the well-known §ufl Abu ‘Abd Allah 
Muhammad al— Dasitanx (d. 417/1026) al— Sahlagx refers 
to his master as shaykh al— mashayikh (the master of 
masters) and relates a large number of traditions from 

That al-Sahlagl was a man endowed with mystical 
experience is shown by some of his own statements in 
Nur . While talking about the narrators of Abu Tazxd's 
traditions, he says that he has been able to determine 
the authenticity of these narratives on the basis of 
a mystical "taste" ( munlzalah - ) Without this "taste". 

1 Kashf , p. 205. 

Al-Sam‘anx, Ansab, for. 81, b. 

^ Ibid . ; Nur . pp. 46, 50, 51, etc. 

According to Massignon, al-Dasitanx dictated the 
elements of Nur to al-Sahlagl ( Essai . p. 274). This is 
at least an exaggeration, if not completely incorrect. 
Neither al-Sam anx nor al-Hujwirl, to both of whom 
Massignon refers, tells us that this was the case. 

Moreover, even a casual glance at Nur will show that maiy 
of the traditions narrated in this book have been deriveiby 
ai-Sahlagl directly from persons other than al-Dasitanl. 

^Nur, p. 62 . 

Here is a good example of munazalah, meaning mys- 
tical "taste". This word has been used in the same sense 


says he, it would be impossible to distinguish between 
the transmissions of the authentic narrators and those 
of the doubtful narrators of Abu Yazld's traditions.*’ 
Again, while showing the superiority of the ranks of 
Abu Yazid and of his followers to those of one Dawud and 
of his successors, he says, "This is one of God's secrets 


revealed to me and not to anyone else." 

The question arises as to the date of writing 
Nur . Al-Hujwiri who, as we have seen,- 7 met the author, 
is completely silent about the book. It is likely, there- 
fore, that al-Sahlagl wrote Nur in the latter part of 
his life after the completion of al-Hujwxrls Kashf . 

As it was customary among many early Muslim 
scholars to explain to the reader the factor or factors 

by ai-Sarrlj in his Luma * (Glossary, p. 151) • 

This idea, that al-Sahlagl determines the authenti- 
city of the narratives of Abu Yazid on the basis of mys- 
tical "taste", has a parallel in Shi* I thought. According 
to some Shi* I scholars, the authenticity of the Prophetic 
Traditions can be determined by a sort of "smell". 

The fact that al-Sahlagl claims a monopoly to the 
authentic traditions of Abd Yazid shows that he was one 
of the ^ayfurls . 

*~ Nur , p. 62. 

2 Ibid . 

^Supra, p. 19. 


motivating them to write a book, 1 al-Sahlagl justifies 
the writing of Nur by saying that he was asked, possibly 
by his friends or disciples, to enlighten them with 
information on Abu Yazld and his mystical state ( hal ) ; 
to explain some of his difficult sayings, and to speci- 
fy his true followers. Hence he felt obliged to write 
Nur in which he clarified the positions of Abu Yazld and 
of his followers, and explained clearly some of their 
teachings to make them understandable to the people. He 
mentions, however, that he has excluded some of their 
teachings because "knowledge of the secret ( sirr ) depends 
on the secret ( sirr ) ; it cannot be explained and expressed. 
If its hidden meanings are revealed and the secrets 
exposed, its beauty, light, freshness and sweetness 



Many of the narratives contained in al-Sahlagi's 
work are written in the form of Prophetic Traditions: 
the text of each narrative is authenticated by a chain 
of transmitters ( isnad ) whose names are cited, and this 
chain goes back to the person who is the source of the 

^n instruction in dream or a request from friends, 
disciples or others was usually cited as a motivating 

^Nur, p. 45. 


narrative."^ Here is an example: 

I (al-Sahlagl) heard Abu Muhammad saying: I heard 
Abu Tahir al-Tayyib b. Muhammad al-§ufl saying: I 
heard Muhammad b. al-§usayn al-§ufl saying: I heard 
‘Abd Allah t. ‘All saying: I heard Tayfur al-Bis-fcaml 
saying: I heard Musa b. ‘Isa saying: My father said 
that Abu Yazid said, "If you see a man who has been 
given miracles so that he can fly in the air, do 
not be deceived by him until you consider how you 
find him (behaving) in respect of (God's) commands 
and prohibitions ( al— amr wa al— nahiy y ^ T of keeping 
within limits and of the fulfilment of Shari* ah. * 2 3 4 

Most of the direct transmitters of these tradi- 
tions were either members of Abu Yazid' s family,-* or his 
disciples or visitors. ^ There are, however, many other 
traditions in Nur which do not have an isnad. 

Now comes the crucial question of the reliabili- 
ty of the material contained in Nur. First we shall 

L The oral traditions of Luma * , 

f _ i and Risalah are also recorde 

k xnfra, pp. 28-29 )• 

Tabaqat (SulamI), 
a in the same form 

2 Nur, pp. 69 and 126. 

The texts occuring at both these places are the same, 
but their isnad s vary. We are reproducing here the isnad 

as given on p. 69. 


'The traditions oust cited is an example of this. 


For information on some of them infra , pp. 61-65 
and 99-108. 


consider its oral traditions. Even a casual glance at 
the footnotes of our work will show that many of these 
traditions also occur in such works as Luma * , Tabaoat 
(Sul ami) , gilyah, Risalah and Kashf. One example is the 
tradition we have just cited. The following are the 
Arabic texts: 

Nut , pp. 69 and 126: 

^ J\ gj 

3 L 'A r v 3 ^ 4 vll } 

Risalah . p. 15; 

U) J_ic JL*. 4j I^jJLsLT 


gilyah . X, 40: 

Cjr* cJ-^J ^ f -lSjJz-* 

P-A- ^ [3. jJa -i - T , < g *°- c ^~ » g 7 -l i o p I 9— sjJI 

■ -S 1 3. 33 JlJ I .k-o-c 3 _3 

Luma * , p. 324: 

■j- 4 

4 y W 

C *=? 3 -^La-M ^ cj -c & ^ 1 ile.j qI 3J 

<!L; J)-A_sJ' c.a ^ ^ ^.1 

A comparison of these texts shows that they 
all agree, with slight variations. If we leave aside 


14 hi 

the variations of the word z>.y which might be due to 
different readings of the editors, the texts in Nur, 
Risalah and Bilyah are exactly the same. The text of 
Luma * * * 4 5 * 7 , however, varies in some respects^ from the other 

■^The spreading of the prayer-rug on water as men- 
tioned in the beginning of the text in Luma is only an 
example of the miracles ( karamat ) referred to in the be- 
ginning of the other three texts. As for the part missing 
from the end of Luma * 1 s text, we can say that al-Sarraj 
of ten suppresses the isnad s and abbreviates the text of 
traditions. Referring to this fact, Nicholson rightly 
says, "Considering the variety of topics which the author 
has managed to include in a comparatively short treatise, 
we can easily forgive him for having often suppressed the 
isnads and abbreviated the text of traditions and anec- 
dotes...." (Nicholson's Introduction to Luma , p. viii). 

The following are the isnad s of the same tradition 
as given in the works mentioned above: 

Nur : (1) Al-SahlagI <— (2) Abu MuTjammad ■*- (3) Abu 
$ahir al-^ayyib b. Muhammad al-§uf I *- (4) Muhammad b. 
al-§usayn al-§ufi (5) l Abd Allah b. 4 All •*— (6) !fayfur 
al-Bis'fcami (7) Musa b. 4 Isa (8) His father «— 

(9) Abu Yazld. 

Risalah : Al-QushayrI (4) Muhammad b. al-?usayn 

(5) 4 Abd Allah b. 4 All «- (7) Musa b. 4 Isa (8) His 
father (9) Abu Yazld. 

Bilyah : Abu Nu 4 aym (4) Muhammad b. al-Busayn «— 
(5 ) ‘All b. 4 Abd Allah (6) !fayfur al-Bis-fcami 

(7) Musa b. 4 Isa (8) His father <— (9) Abu Yazld. 

Luma 4 : Al-Sarraj (6) ^ay f ur *>• ‘Isa (7) Musa 
b. ‘Isa «— (8) His father <— (9) Abu Yazld. 

Several points come out of a comparison of these 
isnads. The isnSd in Luma 4 is the shortest, naturally, 
because al-Sarraj was the earliest of the four authors. 
It is quite possible that al-Qushayri received the 

three, but the central meaning of the tradition in all 
these texts is the same. It is possible that al-Sahlagl 
received this tradition from one or more of the other 
three sources in which it occurs, or it may have occurred 
in Nur quite independently. In any case, we have to 
accept this tradition as authentic because we have 
accepted the other three sources as dependable. What 
is true of this particular tradition is also true of 
many other traditions in Nur . That is to nay, many other 
oral traditions in Nur are in agreement with those in 
the earlier dependable sources; we therefore accept these 
too as authentic. 

There are, however, other oral traditions which 
occur only in Nur and in no other earlier source avail- 
able to us. This might be expected because Luma * , 

Tabaqat (SulamI), gily&h. Risalah and Kashf are compact 
general and systematic works on early §uflsm, whereas 
Nur is a hagiographical work, and, in fact, one of the 
earliest of this type, devoted exclusively to the life 
and teachings of Abu Yazld. Naturally, therefore, al- 
Sahlagl includes in Nur much more material on Abu Yazld 

tradition from gilyah ; for, although No. (5) in the isnad 
is transposed and No. (6) is missing from the isnad oT " 
Risalah, botn al— Qushayn and Abu Nu 4 aym could possibly 
not have heard this tradition from the same Muhammad b. 
al-§usayn. The isnad in Nur . however, is the most 


than any of the other authors do. An internal criticism 
of the traditions which occur independently in Mur shows 
that they are authentic traditions of Abu Yazid. The 
ideas contained in these traditions are quite consistent 
with those contained in the other traditions which we 
have (judged authentic. That is to say, there is a con- 
sistency of meanings among all these tradition giving 
a unique picture of Abu Yazid' s personality. Hence we 
can accept these independent traditions as authentic 
since they are borne out by the other available material 
on Abu Yazid. 

Apart from the oral traditions, Mur contains a 
large number of traditions quoted as such without any 
isnad attached to them , 1 Many of these traditions with- 
out isnad are also contained in the earlier sources. 

We can then reasonably say that al-Sahlagl received these 
from the works of his predecessors. For, otherwise, why 
should, he not have mentioned the isnad s? In fact, it is 
difficult to think that al-Sahlagl, who was an out- 
standing scholar with several works to his credit and 
did a great deal of travelling in order to verify the 
authenticity of traditions, and met scholars such as al- 
Hujwlrl, did not know the works of his predecessors which 

^■For examples, see Nur, pp. 109 - 114 - • 


were available at that time. It is possible that he may 
even have used Manaqib Abu Yazxd^ as a source for his 

work. The manuscripts of Nur mention Manaqib Abu Yazld 

— 2 - 
in the beginning of Nur . We have seen that Manaqib 

could not be the title of Nur,^ but the fact that the 

manuscripts mention Manaqib shows that there might have 

been some connection between the two. Of the several 

possibilities we can think of, one is that al-Sahlagx 

- - 4 

might have used Manaqib as a source of Nur . 

To sum up, al-Sahlagx' s reputation as a §ufx and 
a vastly learned man; his unique position as a §ufx and 
scholar who lived in Bis-tam, belonged to the ^ayfurx 
tradition of §ufxsm and claimed to have a mystical 
"taste" on the basis of which he could determine the 
authenticity of Abu Yazld' s traditions; the possibility 
that he may have had access to many works on early 

■'"Supra, p. 7 (and 8), n. 1. 

2 Nur, p. 44. 

^Supra, p. 7 j(and 8), n. 1. 

^Another possibility may be that the copier described 
the book as the Manaqib (virtuous acts) of Abu Yazld. 

The third possibilxty_is that the^_copier mistook the text 
of Nur as that of Manaqib Abu Yazld . 



§ufism available at his time; the agreement of many 
traditions of Nur with those of earlier works which we 
have accepted as dependable; and most important, the 
internal consistency of the traditions not only among 
themselves but also with those occurring in other works; 
all these factors give us a basis to conclude that the 
material in Nur is dependable as a source of informa- 
tion on Abu Yazld. But we should remember, nevertheless, 
that the oral traditions of Nur are after all oral tra- 
ditions suffering from their natural weaknesses. 

x) Ibn Munawwar 

Muhammad Ibn Munawwar' s (d. 600/1203) famous 
Persian work Asrar al-Tawbld fl Maqamat al-Shaykh Abl 
Sa 4 Id^ which contains an account of the life and 
teachings of the great §ufl Abu Sa 4 id b. Abl al-Khayr 
(d. 441/1049), the author's great grand-father, has a 
few references to Abu Yazid's life and teachings. 

^Muljammad b. Munawwar A Asrar al-Tawhld fl Maqamat 
al-Shaykh Abl Sa id (Tehran: Mu' assasat- i hatbTTSt-i 
Amir Kablr, 1332 [shams!] ) . 


xi) Baqll 

One very important book for our understanding 
of shatabat i s Sharh Shathiyat 1 by Ruzbehan Baqll of 
Shiraz (d. 606/1209)* This was first written in Arabic, 
Later, on the request of one of his disciples, Baqli re- 
wrote the book in Persian in a much larger volume. 

Shathiyat contains most of Abu Yazid's shatabat 
and an interpretation of them by Baqli. We should note, 
however, that Baqli has done this interpretation in the 
light of the developed theosophical §ufism of his time. 

xii) ‘Aftar 

By far the most complete biographical work on 
§ufism is the celebrated Persian work Tadhkirat al- 
Awliya ’ 2 by Farid al-Dln ‘Attar (d. 626/1229) of 
Naysabur. A druggist ( ‘ attar ) by profession in the 
beginning of his life, he later devoted himself to lite- 
rary work and may have became a §ufi. In his attempts 
at making the biographies of §ufis as complete as 
possible, he drew the material for the Tadhkirat from 
as many sources as he could lay his hands on. Aside 



Supra, p. xiv. 
Supra , p. 6, n. 



from gikayat al-Awliya * Luma * . Tabaqat (SulamI), 
gilyah , Risalah and Kashf, ‘A^ar had access to mono- 
graphs on §ufl lives and teachings, e.g., Nur from which 


he quotes extensively, and also perhaps to some 

_ T 75 

writings of §ufis themselves. Tadhkirat devotes a long 
chapter to the life and teachings of Abu YazTd. 

‘A^fcar, however, is not very careful in quoting 

material from the sources he used. Motivated by a desire 

to present the life and thought of the §ufls in clear 

intelligible language to the reader^ and perhaps he had 

also the common man in mind, he does not always bother 

to quote the traditions word for word. Sometimes he ela- 


borates and explains the text, and other times he 


summarizes and omits from it difficult words and phrases. 
^ Supra , p. 7, n. 1. 

T?or an example of ‘Avar's quotation from Nur , 
supra, p . 22, n. 

^Arberry, Muslim Saints , pp. 12-14 • 


This is very clearly exemplified in the tradition 
quoted on p.152 


Judged by modern standards, this is not a very 
scholarly approach. Yet, herein perhaps lies a great 
value of ‘Avar's work. His interpretation^and elabora- 
tion help us to understand some of the §ufl traditions 
which are otherwise very obscure (the example on pp. 169-170 
is a case in point) . And we can accept most of 


Moreover, by t A"tt ar ' s "time, numerous legends and stories 
of miracles bad grown up around the lives of the §ufls, 
and the author seems to have incorporated a number of 
them into his book. 

In spite of all this, we consider ‘A-ffcar's 
Tadhkirat as a dependable source of information on Abu 
Yazld' s life and thought. The fact that he may have been 
a §ufl himself, his reputation as a great scholar of 
§uflsm, his use of all the works on §uflsm, including 
Nur, which were available to him, and most important, 
as in the case of the material in Nur, the consistency 
of the traditions in Tadhkirat , are points in favour of 
our argument. We should, nevertheless, read this work 
carefully; we should allow for the weaknesses that may 
have resulted from ‘Avar's interpretations, elaboration 
etc., of traditions and from his incorporation of some 
traditions which may have arisen due to the pious inven- 
tion of the people and thus would reflect more the ideas 
of the people of ‘Avar's time about Abu Yazld than of 
the historical Abu Yazld. 

his interpretations. Perhaps a §ufl himself, he was a 
great scholar, lived in a §>ufl atmosphere and at a pe- 
riod much nearer to the time of the early §ufls than ours. 
Hence he was in a better position to understand their 
teachings than we. 


xiii) Jam! 

A. short account of Abu Yazid's life and teachings 
is also contained in the famous Persian work Nafahat al- 
Uns 1 by ‘Abd al-Raljman Jam! (d. 898/1492) of Khurasan. 

As we have mentioned before, 2 one of the main sources of 
this work was Atari's Tabaqat al-Sufivvah which, in 
turn, was founded on al— Sulami 1 s Tabaqat . 

xi v) Al-Sha‘ rani 

One of the later works on $ufism is Tabaqat al- 
Kubra^ by ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha*rani (al-Sha‘rawi) 

(d. 973/1565) of Egypt who was himself the founder of 
the §ufi order called al-Tariqat al-Sha‘rawiw«h - The 
small section of Tabaqat which the author devotes to Abu 
Yazid does not inform us anything new about the §ufl. 

xv) Al-Kunawi 

Although writ ten quite late, al-Kawakib 

1 Sugra, p. 6, n. 1. 


Supra , p. 16. 

3 * - 

Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha‘rani, Tabaqat al-Kubra 
(Cairo: Ma^ba at al-‘5mirat al- f UtHmlniyyah, 1595). 


al-hurrjyyah 1 by ‘Abd al-Ra’uf al-Munawx (d. 1032/1622) 
of Cairo gives us a good critical account of §ufl 
teachings. This work devotes a small section to Abu 

To sum up our description and evaluation of the 
major sources of information on Abu Yazld' s life and 
thought, we do not have any primary source material in 
its usually accepted sense. The authors who first re- 
corded Abu Yazld' s traditions received them from oral 
sources. Nevertheless, we can accept most of these tra- 
ditions as authentic. Some of the authors mentioned 
above were not far removed from Abu Yazld' s time. Al- 
Junayd, for example, recorded Abu Yazld' s traditions 
within some thirty years of his death. Moreover, some 
of the direct transmitters of traditions to al-Junayd 
were respected §ufis, and associates and friends of 
both al-Junayd and of Abu Yazld. Further, most of the 
authors of §ufl literature who quoted Abu Yazld 's tra- 
ditions were reputed §ufls and recognized scholars. We 
do not know of any ulterior motive on their part which 
would make us suspect their honesty. It is true that 

^‘Abd al-RaMlf al-MunawI, al-Kawakib al-Durriyyah 
f I Tara.jim al-Sadat al-Sufiyyah. (.Cairo: Dawrsat Tajltd 
al-Anwar, 1938). 


some authors tried to defend Abu Yazld against orthodox 
attack, but this does not mean that they distorted or 
corrupted his traditions. What is more important is 
that we do not find any discordant elements in these 
sources; they give us a truly consistent picture of 
Abu Yazid's personality. All this supports our conten- 
tion that most of the information available to us is 
dependable as source material. We should point out 
that the sources contain oral traditions which are not 
as dependable as primary source material, but we have 
no solution to this problem because we do not have any 
primary material on Abu Yazid's life and thought. In 
these circumstances, all that we can do is to read 
these sources carefully and somewhat skeptically and to 
make use of them as best as we can. We should take extra 
caution in reading the biographical material in the sources 
because this material came to be linked up with legends 
and anecdotes which are more indicative of the esteem 
in which others held a §ufl than they are of sober, his- 
torical fact. Any work on early §uflsm is bound to 
depend on these sources, and our work is no exception. 


2. Minor Sources 

i) Massignon 

In his Essai ' 1 * * ' published in 1922, L. Massignon 
devotes a small section of a chapter to Abu Yazid. In 
this section he makes a brief but critical survey of 
the source material on Abu Yazld, and of his life and 
■thought. Massignon also makes a comparison between Abu 
Yazld and al-Sallsg in which, naturally, 5 Abu Yazld 
comes off short. 

ii) Horten 

Max Horten was one of the earliest proponents 
of the theory of the Indian origin of §uflsm. In the 
first of his two articles published under the general 
title "Indische Str&mungen in der islamischen Mystik " 
in the Materialien zur Kunde des Buddhismus in 1927 and 
1928, he analyses the doct rines of Abu Yazld 4 along wit h 

^ Supra , p. 7 , n. 1. 

^Essai, pp. 275-286. 

^Because Massignon is a great admirer of al— §allaj • 

4 M. Horten, ''Indische StrtSmungen in der islamischen 
Mvstik" I. Material ien zur Kunde des Buddhismus 

(Heidelberg, 1927J» pp. lY-2>. 


those of al-Junayd and of al-^allaj, and tries diligent- 
ly to show that §ufism of the third century of the 
Islamic era was thoroughly permeated by Indian thought. 

iii) Dermenghem 

In his Vies des saints musulmans .^ E. Dermenghem 
has devoted a relatively long chapter to a discussion 
of the life and thought of Abu Yazld, and has listed a 
bibliography on him. 

iv) Ritter 

H. Ritter has drawn a sketch of the life and 
teachings of Abu Yazld in his "Die Ausspruche des 
Bayazld Bis'fcaml..." A summarised version of this 
appears in the Encyclopaedia of Islam . ^ 

■4s. Dermenghem, Vies des saints musulmana (Alger: 
[probably published in 1930's].), pp . 197-245 . 

2 _ 

H. Ritter, "Die Ausspruche des Bayazld Bis'fcaml. . .", 

Festschrift Tschudi (- Westostliche Abhandlungen), ed. 

F. Meier, Wiesbander (1954), pp. 213-243. 

^H. Ritter, "Abu Yazld", Ejl. , new ed., I, 162-163. 


v) Arberry 

In one of the chapters of his Revelation and 
Reason i n Islam , A.J. Arberry examines the life and 
sayings of Abu Yazid^ in particular as an illustration 
of the §ufl path "by which the earnest believer might 
hope to reach his journey's end, the way of spiritual 
discipline and if might be, personal communion with 
the Creator."^ 

Regarding the question of possible Indian in- 
fluence on Abu Yazid, Arberry holds a view opposite to 
that of Zaehner. He has attempted to refute Zaehner's 
thesis, point by point, in his article "Bistamiana". 5 

Arberry has also introduced a short notice to 
the story of Abu Yazid' s conversation with the monks of 
a Christian monastery in his "A Bis-fcamI Legend" in the 
Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society .** 

*A.J. Arberry, Revelation and Reason in Islam, the 
Forward Lectures for 1^6 delivered 'in the University 
of Liverpool (London, 1957), pp. 89-108. 

^Ibid. , p. 89. 


A.J. Arberry, "Bistamiana" , Bulletin of the School 
of Oriental and African Studies . (.London: University of 
London, XXV 11962]), 26-37. 


A.J. Arberry, "A Bis-fcamI Legend", Journal of the 
Royal Asiatic Society (1938), pp. 89-917 


vi) Zaehner 

R.C. Zaehner thinks that Abu Yazld was respon- 
sible for introducing Indian Vedantic ideas to §uflsm.^ 

He bases his view on the parallelism that he finds 
between the shatabat of Abu Yazld and the Indian sources. 
The Oxford professor attempts to prove this thesis in 

his article "Abu Yazld of Bis^am: a Turning Point in 

_ p 

Islamic Mysticism" and in his book Hindu and Muslim 
Mysticism .^ 

vii) Anawatx and Gardet 

A brief account of Abu Yazld and of his teachings^ 

based primarily on Massignon' s Essai ^is contained in 

Mystique musulmane: aspects et tendances, experiences 


et techniques by G.C. Anawatl and L. Gardet. 

viii) Deladriere 

R. Deladriere' s article "Abu Yazld al- 
Bis^aml et son Enseignement Spirituel" in 

^■Ror a discussion of this problem, infra , pp. 299-551. 

Supra , p. 22, n. 

7 . 

'Supra, p. 5> 1. 

^Anawatl and Gardet, Mystique, pp. 52-33 and 


Arabic a 


briefly surveys Abu Yazid's life and teachings. 

ix) Al-Samarra’i 

In his recently published doctoral disserta- 
tion, The Theme of Ascension in Mystical Writings . 


Qasim al-Samarra’I discusses Abu Yazid's mi * 2 * 4 5 rafi and ihe 
question of possible Indian influence on his doctrine 
of f ana ’ (self-annihilation). Arberry's pupil and a 
Muslim, the author agrees with his teacher in the con- 
troversy regarding the Indian influence on Abu Yazid. 
Al-Samarra’I also briefly discusses the question as to 
whether or not Abu Yazid was a pantheist.^ 

Aside from the works mentioned above 




■Hr. Deladri^re, "Abu Yazid al-Bis^aml et son 
enseignement spirituel", Arabic a , XIV (1967), Part I, 

2 Qasim al-Samarra’I, The Theme of Ascension in 

Mystical Writings (Baghdad: The National Printing and 

Publishing Co . , 1968) , pp. 252-240. 

5 Ibid., pp. 241-244. 

^Mention should also be made of a brief account of 
Abu Yazid in Ibn Khalllkan's (d. 681/1282) Kitab 
Wafaylt al-A 4 yan (trans. into English by B.G. Slane, 
Biographical .Dictionary [4 vols.; London: Oriental 
Translation Pund of Great Britain and Ireland (printed 
in Paris), 1843-1871], I, 662). An account of Bis'fcam 
where Abu Yazid lived is found in the famous 


under major and minor sources, references to Abu Yazld 
are found in almost every other book on §uflsm. 

geographical dictionary, Mu* .jam al-Buldan [ 5 vols.*,* 
Beirut: Dar §adir wa Dar Bayrut, 1955-19573 » I> 421- 
422) , by the Greek born (later converted to Islam) 
geographer Shihab al-Dln Yaqut (d. 627/1957) and in 
many other geographical works. In his enclopaedia 
article, "Bis’&am" ( E.I . , new ed., I, 1247), R.N. 

Frye gives a very brief account of and lists a biblio- 
graphy on the town of Bistam. There is a description 
of this town also_in J.B. Fraser’s Narrative of a 
Journey into Khurasan in the Years 1821 and 1822 
([London: Longman, 1825], pp. 356-540). 

Chapter II 


Although the sources contain a great deal of 
material on the teaching of Abu Yazid fay fur b. l Isa b. 
Sharushan al-Bis'fcami,^’ information on his life and 
personality is relatively sparse. Nevertheless, in so 
far as it is possible, we shall attempt to construct a 
biography of Abu Yazid from the information which is 
available. Of all the sources, al-Sahlagi's Nur is the 
most helpful. We should, however, proceed with great 
caution, for, as we have hinted previously, the mate- 
rial on the biographies of the early §ufis came to be 
linked up with legends and anecdotes which are more 
indicative of the esteem in which others held a §ufi 
than they are of sober, historical fact. 

■^Al-Sahlagl tells^us that three important persons 
bore the name Abu Yazid, but the most important of them 
was Abu Yazid fayfur b. ‘isa b. Sharushan (Nur , 
pp. 45-46). 

^ Supra , p. 59 . 



1. The Dates of Abu Yazid' s Birth and Death 

Abu Yazid died in 234/848 at the age of seventy- 
three. 1 The year of his birth, then, would be 161/77 7* 

According to al-Sulaml, Abu Yazid died either 
in 234/848 or in 261/874 Although al-Sulaml belonged 
to a period earlier than that of al-Sahlagl, we can 
presume that the latter knew much more about Abu Yazid; 
for, as^e have seen previously,^ he lived in Bis'Jjam, 
belonged to Abu Yazid' s tradition of §ufism and de- 
voted a complete work to Abu Yazid. None of these is 
true of al-Sulaml . Hence, in the matter of the date of 
Abu Yazid' s death, we consider al-Sahlagl more likely 
to be accurate than al-Sulaml. Moreover, Abu Yazid had 
contact, either through visits or through correspon- 
dence, with most of the important §ufls of the time 
e.g., Dhu al-Nun of Egypt (d. 245/860), Yaljya b. 

Mu‘adh al-RazI (d. 258/872) and others/* But there is 
no indication to show that he had any contact w ith the 
great Baghdadi §ufl al-Junayd. If Abu Yazid had died in 

1 Nur, p. 63* 


^ Tabaqat (SulamI), p. 60. 

^ Supra , pp. 23 * 25 and 30 . 

^Infra, pp. 99-108. 


261 — and al— Junayd would have been some forty— five 
years old at that time^ — we could reasonably expect 


some contact between them. Al-Junayd, as we have seen, 
heard traditions of Abu Yazld from his uncle and 
master Sari al-Saqa^T who might have met Abu Yazld^ 
as well as from others who associated both al-Junayd 
and Abu Yazld. 

What is even more important is that Abu ‘All 
Shaqlq al-Balkhl (d. 194/810) met Abu Yazld as a 
§ufi.^ This would have been impossible if Abu Yazld 

■^He was born about the year 215/830 (‘Abd al-Qadir 
al-Junayd . p. 2). 


Supra , p. 4. 

^ Nur . p. 81. 

^Al-Saqa'fcl refers to Abu Yazld as "my brother" 
(akhl) . This shows that their relationship was an inti- 
mate one , either through correspondence or even per- 
haps through personal meeting. This again could be ' 
taken as a further evidence to support our contention 
about the date of Abu Yazld' s death. Had al-Junayd 
been old enough at the time Abu Yazld and al-Saqa^I 
were in contact with each other, one might expect that 
there would have been some contact between al-Junayd 
and Abu Yazld also. 

^Nur, p. 91; Mir ’at, p. 163; Tabaqat (SulamI), 
p. 95. 

Al-Balkhi seems to have met Abu Yazld also when 
the latter was^a young boy (Nur, p. 95). Aside from 
this, al-Balkhi corresponded with Abu Yazld through a 
messenger ( Tadhkirat , I, 147-148). 


died in 261; for^ in this case Abu Yazld would have 
been a mere lad of six in the year of Shaqlq's death. 

2. The Place of his Birth 

As his surname 1 al-Bis^im!' shows, Abu Yazld 
belonged to Bis'fcam (also Basham and Bost?am). A town 
enclosed by a wall with many round towers, 1 Bis-fcam is 


situated in an open valley surrounded by hills in the 
Elburz Mountains range. It is on the highway to 
Naysabur (half-way between Tehran and Naysabur) three 
miles and a half norfch-east of Shahrud at 55 E. Long. 
(Greenw.) and 36.30 N. Lat.^ A stream which originates 
from the Elburz and runs through Bis-fcam has made the 
valley cultivable.^ It has a population of about 
4,000 people (1950).^ Its winter is harsh. On Jan. 5j 
1821, Eraser saw hills covered with snow and a great 
deal of snow lying on the plain of Bis-tam.^ Aside from 

Eraser, Narrative , p. 356 

^Ibid. , p. 3^2. 

^Frye, "Bis’fcam", p. 1247. 

^Yaqut, Buldan, I, 421; Fraser, Narrative , p. 356. 

5 Frye, "Bis-fcam", p. 1247. 

^Fraser, Narrative , p. 3^5 • 


Abu Yazid's tomb and sanctuary which are located in 
the middle of the town, there are ruins of many monu- 
ments in Bis'fcam.^ Near the tomb, Fraser saw a ruined 
square at the entrance to which was a gate built of 
brick. £ It is possible that this gate is the Bab-i 
Naw^an to which reference will be made later. ^ 

Founded, perhaps, by Khusraw II Parwiz's gover- 

— 4 _ 

nor, Bis-fcam, about the year 590 A.D., Bis-fcam fell to 

the Muslim general Suwayd b. Muqarrin in 18/659 or in 

19/640 during the caliphate of 4 Umar 

The famous Muslim geographer-traveller Yaqut 
visited Bis-fcam on the eve of the Mongol invasion. He 
described it as a fair-sized town with many market 
places and with modest, low-roofed houses. From his 
account, we also know that Bis^am was swarming with 
bugs, flies and small snakes, but it produced rosy 

1 Ibid . . pp.. 356 ff ; Frye, "BisSim", p. 1247. 


Fraser, Narrative , pp. 359 and. 34-0 

^Infra . p. 61. 

^Frye, "Bis-fcam" , p. 1247. 

^Yaqut, Buldan . I, 422. 

Cf. Frye, "Bistam", p. 1247. 


apples which were being exported to Iraq and sold there 
as ' Bis-famls ' • Yaqut also visited Abu Yazld's grave 
in Bis^am.^ 

It was here in Bis^am, in a locality called 
Mafcallat-i Mubadan, that Abu Yazxd was bom. Mubadan 
was named after the name of one of Abu Yazld's ances- 
tors. Abu Yazld later moved to the locality of 

Wafidan which then came to be called Buyadhan after 

- 2 
Abu Yazid's name. 

3. His Family 


Adam AbuTYazId * A3.3T (daughter) (daughter 5 

1 — - — 2. 

Abu Musa 

‘Umayy Musa Abu Yazld II (son) (son) ^ 

■hraqut , Buldan, I, 421-422. 

2 Nur . p. 4? 

'This family-tree is incomplete. We do not think 
it necessary to make it more complete, for on the 
basis of the chains of narrators in Nur, we can men- 
tion the names of a few persons belonging to the 
fourth and later generations of Abu Yazld, but we can- 
not add anything more about them. 


i) His Grandfather 

Abu Yazld's grandfather Sharushan was first a 
Magian and then was converted to Islam by one Ibn 
Ibrahim. He became a pious Muslim thereafter* 

Al-SahlagI relates the following story of 
Sharushan' s acceptance of Islam: Sharushan used to be 
associated with Ibn Ibrahim. Sharushan' s father ob- 
jected to his son's association with a non^-Magian. The 
son tried to convince his father of the good qualities, 
such as generosity and trustworthiness, of Ibn 
Ibrahim. To verify what Sharushan was saying, the 
father wanted to meet Ibn Ibrahim. Accordingly, he 
invited Ibn Ibrahim to his house. When Sharushan 
brought food before the guest, the latter refused to 
eat unless the former accepted Islam. Unable to dis- 
oblige the guest, Sharushan became a Muslim.^ 

It appears from the story that Sharushan was 
already prepared to accept Islam. But he needed a 

pretext to do it, and this pretext was provided by 

%ur, p. 46. 

2 Ibid. 

5 Ibid. 


Ibn Ibrahim's refusal to eat the food. 

Probably, Sharushan belonged to the first 
generation of Muslims in Bis'tam, for Ibn Ibrahim came 
to the town from elsewhere when the spread of Islam 
in this area had just begun.'*' We are, however, sure 
that there was no wholesale conversion to Islam in 
Bis^am. For j we find that there were many Zoroastrians 
living in the town during Abu Yazld's time. In fact, 
there were Zoroastrian families in Abu Yazld's imme- 


diate neighbourhood and he was very much aware of 
their presence . He often spoke of the Magian girdle 
( zunnar )^ in a metaphorical sense to represent infide- 
lity, and this became a favourite metaphor for many 
later §uf Is . As far as we know, Abu Yazld was respon- 
sible for introducing this metaphor into §uflsm, and this 
could very well have been due to his encounter with 
Magians in the vicinity in which he lived. 

ii) His Father 

It seems that Abu Yazld's father ‘Isa was an 
extraordinarily pious Muslim. According to a tradition, 

1 Ibid. 

2 Infra, p p . 7^-75. 

5 Infra,pp. 172; 233 , n. 4. 


he did not consummate his marriage until forty days 
after the wedding to make sure that at the time of con- 
summation the digestive tract of his wife did not con- 
tain any trace of forbidden food which she might have 
eaten at her father's house.'*' We are also told that 

‘Isa was one of the prominent men in Bis^am. He died 

_ x 

when Abu Yazid was a young boy. 

iii) Abu Yazid' s Mother and his Relationship with her 

Although we do not know much about Abu Yazid' s 
father, our sources contain a number of traditions 
about his mother and her relationship with Abu Yazid. 
Al-SahlagI tells us that Abu Yazid' s mother was a rare 
woman of humility ( tawadu ‘ ) , shyness ( fray a ’ ) , fear 
(khawf ) and hope ( raja * ) ; she was an ascetic assiduous 
at fasting and a noble woman with whom everyone was 


pleased. If al-Sahlagi's description is correct, she 
was also a §ufl of some standing. According to the 

•*~ Nur , p. 47. 

2 — 

Ibn Khalllkan, Wafayat, trans. Slane* I, 662; 
Tadhkirat, I, 155. 

^ Infra, pp. 59 and 67. 

^Nur, p. 47. 


same author, when Abu Yazld was troubled in his mind 
by his master Ja‘ far's 1 prediction concerning his spi- 
ritual destiny, he came to his mother and one word 


from her was sufficient to restore his peace of mind. 
This further shows that the mother played an important 
role in the development of Abu Yazld' s spiritual life. 

The story is told that when Abu Yazld was in 

his mother's womb, he used to cause stirring in the 


womb every time she would eat some forbidden food. 

This and many similar stories which we shall 
come across should be taken for what they are worth. 

As we have mentioned before,^ they tell us more of how 
the people thought about Abu Yazld than of the real 
historical Abu Yazld. This is true of a great deal of 
biographical literature on important personalities of 

^■Por a discussion on Abu Yazld' s relationship with 
Ja‘far, infra , pp. 68-70. 

%ur, p. 47. 

^Tadhkirat, I, 135. 

According to another tradition, when the mother 
was pregnant with Abu Yazld, her hands would withdraw - 
whenever she approached any forbidden food (Nur, 
p. 142; Mir * at , p. 168). 


Supra, p . 39 . 


Islam. Some aspects of the portrayal of the life of the 
Prophet Muhammad provide a good example. Many pious 
Muslims could not imagine that such an extraordinary 
person could have come into this world in an ordinary 
way. Hence many miraculous stories were invented and 
associated with the event of his birth. Historically 
speaking, these stories do not have much value. Never- 
theless, they are important in so far as they inform 
us of the people's estimation of these personalities. 

It is certain that Abu Yazld was very obedient 
to his mother, although it was difficult to please her. 1 
The following story may contain some exaggeration, but 
it indicates how obedient Abu Yazld was to his mother. 
One night the mother asked Abu Yazld to bring her a 
drink of water. Thereupon he went out to look for water. 
Later he returned with a mug of water. Finding his 
mother asleep, he waited with the mug in his hand until 
she awoke. In the meantime, due to the excessively low 
temperature, a piece of skin from one of his fingers 
was frozen to the edge of the mug. Asked by his mother 
what it was, Abu Yazld replied, "This is the skin of 
my finger. I thought to myself that if I should put the 

1 Tadhkirat, I, 138. 


mug down and go to sleep, perhaps you would want the 

water and not be able to find it* Besides, you did not 

order me to put it down* So X held it (in my hands) in 

order to please you and to obey your order.” 1 ‘Attar 

adds that the mother then asked Abu Yazld to keep the 

door (of the house or of her room) half-open, and he 

watched the door until day— break to make sure that the 


door remained exactly the way his mother wanted it* 

Abu Yazld recalled that he disobeyed his mother 
only twice, and on both these occasions evil consequences 
followed. He believed that these consequences were the 
flj.pgcb and immediate result of his disobedience • He said, 

Once I was throwing wormwood ( shlb ) from the roof 
to the bottom of the house. While I was doing this, 
she said, "Stop". But I was (already) in the pro- 
cess of throwing one part of it. To obey her and 
to follow her order I attempted to catch hold of 
it. But I fell from the roof and broke my nose. I 
realized that this wound was the result of my dis- 
obeying her and ignoring (lit. abandoning) her 
order. And once she ordered me to bring water and 
said, "Carry the pitcher." But I carried two 
pitchers. When X came out (of the house), a 
drunken man came, beat me up and broke one of the 

1 Nur, p. 71; Tadhkirat, I, 158; Kawakib , p. 249* 
^Tadhkirat, I, 158. 

Abu Yazld obeyed his mother in accordance with the 
instructions of the Shari* ah ( Kawakib , p. 249). 


pitchers. I realized that this was (also) due to 
my disobeying her order ^ 

In spite of these acts of disobedience for which, 
he thought, he had received punishment, Abu Yazld be- 
lieved that his mother was satisfied with him. In fact, 
he regarded his mystical achievement to be the result 
of her satisfaction. Once, when asked how he had 
achieved his goal, Abu Yazld replied, "You say what 
you will, 2 but I see this as the result of my mother's 

^Nur, pp. 70-71* 

Abu Yazld' s disobedience of his mother on the se- 
cond occasion may appear strange to us. He had carried 
the water containers correctly according to the mother's 
order. But, from Abu Yazld 's point of view, he had been 
disobedient because his mother had asked him to carry 
only one pitcher and not two. 

It is interesting to notice here that the wounds 
on the nose and the beating by the drunken man need 
not be understood as being the results of Abu Yazld' s 
disobedience of his mother; for, these incidents could 
be sufficiently explained with reference to natural 
causes. Nevertheless, we should bear in mind that he 
looked at these incidents as being the results of dis- 
obedience, and for that reason they were important 
to him. 

2 That is, you may interpret this in any way you 

^Nur, pp. 71-72. 


The mother was responsible for the care of the 
young Abu Yazid. As we shall see later, it was she 
(and not her husband) who sent him to the school."** 

This evidence begins to suggest that ‘Isa died when 
Abu Yazld was a young boy. The conclusion is further 
supported by the fact that after having heard the in- 
terpretation of the Qur’anic verse "Be thankful to Me 


and to your parents," Abu Yazid told his mother of 

the impossibility of serving God and "her" at the same 

time. The "mother" then relieved him of the service to 

her and Abu Yazld left home.^ If the father were alive 

at that time, Abu Yazld would definitely have mentioned 

both the father and the mother in this connection, for 

the Qur’anic verse refers to both. The mother lived 

long. She was still alive when Abu Yazid came back 

- A 

home thirty years after he had left Bis^am. 

1 Infra , p . 67. 

^Qur’an , 31 :14. 

^Infra, pt 67. 

^Infra, pp 68-69. 


iv) Other Members of his Family 

a) His brothers and sisters: As far as the 

other members of his family^ are concerned, we know 

that Abu Yazld had two brothers and two sisters. Among 

the brothers, Adam was the eldest, ‘All the youngest 


and Abu Yazld was the intermediate one. Both Adam and 
‘All were devoted worshippers and ascetics.^ We do not 
know anything about the sisters except that one of 
them was married. ^ 

Both Adam and ‘All left behind sons and grand- 
sons. Unlike the descendants of ‘All, the descendants 
of Adam inherited Abu Yazld' s spirituality^ and became 

^We are taking this term in the sense of an extended 
family of the East, 

^Nur, p. 50. 

5 Ibn Khalllkan, Wafayat itrans. SI ape, 1, 662. 

^Infra, p . 113 • 

^There is no word, corresponding to 'spirituality' 
in the text. Yet, this is what the context implies. 

The text goes like this: "The descendants of ‘All, 
one of the brothers of Abu Yazld, did not inherit 
what his (i.e., Adam's) descendants did..." (Nur, 
p. 54). 


famous men.'*’ They were responsible for transmitting to 
following generations a large number of traditions 
about Abu Tazld. The most important of them was Abu 

b) Abu Musa: Son of Adam, Abu Musa was the 
servant ( khadim ) , closest disciple and the constant 
companion of Abu Yazid. One of his duties was to take 
care of Abu lazid's prayer times. For the morning 
prayer he used to go to the gate of Nawljan (Bab-i 
Naw^an), an open place from which the approach of dawn 
could be clearly seen. When the dawn approached, he 


used to come to Abu Yazid' s cell ( sawma* ah ) and inform 
him accordingly.^ On one such morning when Abu Musa 
came to inform his master of the prayer time, he found 

L L 

him dead in the cell. 

Abu Musa had a tremendous respect for the mas- 
ter. Having been asked about respect for one's teacher, 
he once said, 

1 Ibid. 

2 Infra, p . 73. 

%ur , p. 50. 

4 Ibid. 


If God had opened on the servant something 
brighter than the sun and then the teacher called 
him to do a trivial act pertaining to this world, 
and (as a result) he left that (sun) and turned to 
what he was asked to do by the teacher, (even then) 
this would have been a very trivial sign of 
respect. ^ 

It is out of respect again that he never called Abu 


Yazld by his name except on the day the latter died. 

For the same reason Abu Musa ordered that his grave be 

dug deeper than that of Abu Yazld so that his body 

_ z 

would rest at a level lower than Abu Yazid' s.-' 

Abu Yazld also had a high opinion of Abu Musa. 
He said to someone, "You should have a heart like Abu 
Musa." * 2 * 4 

We do not know if Abu Musa was literate in 
respect to exoteric knowledge ( 4 ilm) . but he achieved 


a very high spiritual rank. He was responsible for 

^ Ibid . , pp . 50-51 . 

2 Ibid., p. 50. 

^Ibid., p. 51. 

4 Ibid. 

^Ibid. , pp. 51-52. 

According to al-Sahlagl, Abu Musa reached such a 
high stage that he could view all that was happening 
in Abu Yazld' s heart (ibid., p. 51 ). 


the transmission of a large number of traditions about 
the master and his teachings. Al-Sahlagi tells us that 
Abu Musa took with him to the grave four hundred of 
these traditions; for, during his life-time he did not 
find any worthy person to whom he could reveal these 

c) ‘Umayy Musa and Abu Yazld II: Abu Musa had 
four sons 1 2 * of whom we know the names of two: ‘ Umayy 
Musa^ and Abu Yazld II (al-thanl). 4 Although illite- 
rate ( ummiyy ) in exoteric knowledge, ‘Ummayy Musa 
attained a high mystical rank. He was so much absorbed 
in the contemplation of God that sometimes he could not 
distinguish his children and grandchildren from those 
of others.^ He was one of the two disciples of 

1 Ibid . 

2 Ibid ., p. 32. 

^Badawl vocalizes ‘Umayy as ‘AmmI ( ibid . , p. 53) » 
whereas Massignon reads this as Umayy . C Massignon , 
Essai, p. 274). 

^Abu Yazid is believed to have predicted the birth 
of ‘Umayy Musa and of Abu Yazld II I Nur » p. 53)* 

^Ibid. , p. 52. 


Abu Yazld who received the nickname ( kuniyah ) Abu ‘Abd 
Allah. 1 During the life-time and after the death of 
Abu Yazld, he acted as the deputy of the master in 
propagating his ideas and beliefs. 2 He lived a long 
life. We find him alive even in the year 300/912.^ 

As for Abu Yazld II, he seems to have been an 
4 alim in the exoteric sense; f or ; he worked as a judge 
( qadi ) for some time in Bis-fcam. But he was also a §ufl 
at the same time. According to one tradition, he left 

L 4 

behind four-hundred sayings on ma rifah. 

We do not know who the other recipient of this 
nickname was._As we have seen before ( supra , p. 24 ), 
Muhammad al-Dasitani, al-Sahlagl's master, also bore 
this nickname. Al-Dasitani died in 417/1026^ So he 
could not have been a direct disciple of Abu Yazld. 

It seems that this nickname would be given as an 
honorific title to the people of high spiritual rank. 
This may be the so-called empty kuniyah as possibly was 
the case with Najm al-Dxn al-Kubra (a. 618/1221) . (I?. 
Meier, Die Fawa’ib al-Jalal wa Fawatib al-Jalal des 
Najm al-Din al-KubrH [Wiesbaden; frranz Steiner Verlag 
GMBH, 19573 \ P» 10. Meier refers to J. Wellhausen, 
Muhammad in Medina [ Berlin: 1882], p. 123). 

2 Nur, p. 55. 

We do not know why Massignon makes ‘Urnayy Musa 
an indirect disciple of Abu Yazld (Massignon, Essai, 
p. 274) • 

^Infra, p . 73. 

^Nur, p. 52. 


It is interesting to notice that many of the 
members of Abu Yazld's family were named after prophets. 

4. Did Abu Yazid have a Wife and Children? 

We come back to the life of Abu Yazid himself. 
Was he married? Our sources are almost completely si- 
lent on this question. It is only in Abu Nu‘aym's 
gilyah that we find Abu Yazld's wife narrating two 
traditions from her husband. There are, however, other 
indications which help us arrive at a more or less de- 
finite conclusion. The nickname Abu Yazid (the father 


of Yazid) may indicate that he had a son. Further, as 

Gilyah , X, 36. 

The Tripoli manuscript of Nur includes these two 
traditions from Abu Nu‘aym's gilyah as an addition to 
the original manuscript of al-Sahlagl ( Nur , pp. 147-148). 


This nickname does not necessarily mean that he 
had a son. As we have seen above ( supra , pp.24&64 ), 
the nickname Abu ‘Abd Allah, for example, was given to 
two disciples of Abu Yazid not because they had sons 
named ‘Abd Allah, but because they achieved a certain^ 
spiritual rank. But again we should point out that Abu 
‘Abd Allah and Abu Yazid have very different implica- 
tions. Abu ‘Abd Allah means the father of the worship- 
per of God, and this could very logically be applied 
to a devoted worshipper. But it is quite unlikely that 
the name Abu Yazid, meaning the father of Yazid, would 
be applied as a nickname in the same sense. In fact, 
sometimes Abu Yazid and Yazid are_taken to represent 
two extremes (See ‘A'fc'fcar, Elahl Nameh , ed. H. Ritter 
[Istanbul: Ma-fcba‘at Ma‘ arif , 1940], p. 95 )* 


a pious Muslim, Abu Yazld, like most other §ufls, would 
not have violated the sunnah (way) of the Prophet 
regarding marriage. In fact, there is a tradition which 
has specific reference to this issue. Once Abu Yazld 
wanted to ask God to free him from the desire of women. 
But it occurred to him at once that it was wrong for 
him to do so because the Prophet Himself did not want 
it.^ On the basis of all this we can more or less 
safely conclude that Abu Yazld was married and perhaps 
had one son. Because we do not hear anything about 
Yazid, possibly he died as an infant or grew up as a 
man of no importance. 

5. His Early Life and Conversion to Sufism 

Our knowledge of Abu Yazld' s early life is 
extremely meagre. Most of the stories that have come 
down to us in this respect are somehow or other con- 
nected with his relationship with his mother. The 
stories with regard to obedience to his mother, which 
we have cited above, 2 probably relate to his early life.^ 

^Infra, p. 14-5. 

2 „ 

Supra , pp. 56-59. 

y When still a young boy, Abu Yazld is believed to 
have given a highly mystical answer to the question of 
a tradition! st £ahl al-badlth) : How do you perform your 
prayer? (Kur, p."7^). 


The mother sent the young Abu Yazid to school 
( dabiristan ) where be learned the Qur’an up to the 
chapter of Luqman . Once when the teacher was explaining 
a verse of this chapter to him — "Be thankful to Me 
and to your parents” he was moved in his heart and 
said to the teacher, "Please permit me to go home and 
talk to my mother.” The teacher agreed to his request 
and Abu Yazid went home. He said to his mother, "I 
reached a verse in which God commands me to serve Him 
and you (tu) . I cannot work as a manager in two 
houses .... Either you ( tu) request me from God so that 
I may be wholly for you, or leave me to the service of 


God so that I may be wholly with Him." The mother re- 
leased him from responsibility to her. Accordingly, 

Abu Yazid devoted himself wholly to God. This story is 
important in relation to his conversion to the §ufi 
way of life. 

6. His Life outside Bistain and Service to Sufi Masters 

After Abu Yazid left Bis^am, he wandered from 
place to place for thirty years, disciplining himself 

1 Supra , p. 59 . 

2 Tadhkirat, I, 135-136. 


with ascetic practices. We are told that during this 
period he served three hundred and thirteen masters.^ 

He is believed to have served the last master, Ja l far, 
in the capacity of a water-carrier. This is why, says 
al-Sahlagi, Abu Yazid received the surname Ifayfur al- 
Saqqa (water carrier). ‘A^ar tells us that once when 
this Ja‘far asked Abu Yazid to take a book from a 
vaulted niche ( tag ) , he said, "Which niche?" The master 
said, "You have been coming (here) for such a long 
time and (yet) you have not seen the niche?" Hereupon 
Abu Yazid replied, "Noi what have I to do with that 
niche? When I am before you, I withdraw my attention 
from everything else. I have not come to look about 
This answer convinced the teacher that Abu Yazid' s 
discipleship was completed, and thus he sent him to 
3is$Sm. The master's decision put Abu Yazid into a 
state of restlessness. When he came back to Bis^am, 
his mother, having perceived this state of restlessness, 

^■Hur, p. 47. 

According to ‘A-fctar, Abu Yazid served one hundred 
and thirteen masters ( Tadhkirat , I, 156). 

^Hur, p. 47 . 

^Tadhkirat, I, 136. 


said to her son, "Rest", and this restored Abu Yazld' s 
peace of mind.'*’ 

Who is this Ja‘far? According to al-Sahlagl, 
‘A^tar and Ibn Munawwar, he is Ja*far al-§adiq, the 
sixth Shi‘I Imam. This, as it has been shown by 
Massignon, is chronologically impossible.*' For Ja far 

^Nur, p. 47. 

^Ibid. ; Tadhkirat , I, 136; Asrar , p. 20. 

^Massignon, Essai , p. 273- 

It is very difficult to understand how these 
authors could make Abu Yazld the disciple of Ja‘far al- 
§adiq. Sometimes, we hear of discipleshig in the Uwaysl 
sense, i.e., in the sense Uways al-Qarani (see Kashf, 
pp. 99-100) was the disciple of Muhammad even though 
they never met each other. But, as it is evident from 
their description (supra, p. 68 )» this is certainly 
not the sense in which they use discipleship here. 

Again, sometimes there is a tendency on the part of 
some authors to give a long life to their favourite 
§ufl. In our present case, this is not true either; for^ 
they tell explicitly the date of Abu Yazld' s death and 
the length of his life. Then is it because these 
authors did not know the exact period to which Ja‘far 
belonged? Probably not, because Ja‘far al-§adiq is an 
important personality in the history of Islam, and 
ignorance on the part of al-Sahlagl, ‘A^ar and Ibn 
Munawwar about the period to which Ja‘far belonged is 
quite unlikely. The only explanation we can think_of 
for the attribution of this connection between Abu 
Yazld and Ja‘far al-§adiq is that Abu Yazld visited 
Madinah (infra, p. 71 ) where Ja‘far al-§adiq lived. 
This fact might have led these authors to think that 
Abu Yazld associated with Ja‘far al-§adiq, although the 
latter died long before Abu Yazid visited Madinah. 

If, however, Abu Yazld were really a disciple^of 
Ja‘far, it would show an important link between Shi 4 Ism 
and §uflsm. 


al-§adiq died in 148/765 and Abu Yazid, as we have 
pointed out before was born about the year 161/777 • 
Still the question remains: which Ja‘far, if any, did 
Abu Yazid associate with? We find no clue in the sources 
which enables us to answer this question. 

Concerning other masters of Abu Yazld, we note 

the mention of a Kurdi, of one Abu 4 All al— Sindi and a 

woman. As for the Kurdi, we know only that his grave 

is near Abu Yazid' s grave and that Abu Yazld, out of 

great respect for him, asked his followers before his 


death to dig his grave lower than that of the Kurdi. 
About Abu ‘All al-Sindi, there is a great controversy 
among scholars of §uflsm. We shall reserve the discus- 
sion of this controversy for a later chapter.^ Abu Yazid 
is believed to have met his woman teacher in a desert. 
At first he took her as an ordinary person. But when he 
discovered that her mystical station was higher than 

Supra , p. 47. 

2 Naf abat , p. 56; Tabaqat (An§ari), p. 88. 

^ Infra , pp. 534-548 • 


his, he put himself under her guidence. 

7* Abu Yazid's Return to Bistam 

After having spent thirty years at different 
places devoting himself to ascetic practices and to the 
service of §ufl masters, Abu Yazld finally came back 
from Madlnah to be with his mother at Bistam. The fact 
that he visited Madlnah shows that he very likely per- 
formed his pilgrimage ( faa.i.i ) at Mecca during this 
period, for, according to Muslim custom , one usually 
visits the tomb of the Prophet at Madlnah immediately 
before or after performing his pilgrimage* 

From now on we meet Abu Yazld as a mature §ufl 
settled in Bistam. Most of our information regarding 
Abu Yazid's life pertains to his last thirty years from 
approximately 201/816, when he was forty, until his 
death. ^ 

•^ Tadhkirat , I, 152. 

We also hear of an one-eyed man giving instructions 
to Abu Yazld once ( Mur , p. 86; Tadhkirat , I, 141); on 
another occasion, we find Abu Yazid being advised by a 
fat man ( Nur , pp. 146-147). 

^ Tadhkirat . I, 138. 

^Infra, pp. 95-96* 


8. His House, Mosque and Cell 

Abu Yazld’ s house seems to have been a large 
one. Otherwise, how could AJjmad b. Kha<3ruyah (d. 240/ 
854-855) and a large number of his (Aljmad's) disciples 
who visited Abu Yazld at Bis^am have been accommodated 
in the house?* 1 It had some sort of check-room called 
the stick-room ( bayt al-*asa ) where visitors could put 


their sticks. There was a mosque, known as the mosque 
of Abu al-Khinsinan (?), near his house. But he re- 


frained from going to this mosque because the Bedouin 
who used to sit around the mosque would stand up in 
respect for him. He could not bear this gesture, 

■'’Infra, pp. 101-102. 

2 - 

Nur, p. 56* 

The fact that Abu Yazld' s house had such a room 
and that each one of Aljmad b. Kha<Jruyah's disciples 
carried a stick (ibid.; indicates that it was the cus- 
tom of the §ufis, even of the early third/ninth century, 
to carry walking sticks with them. This_confirms what 
the classical §ufl scholars like al-Sarraj and al- 
Kalabadhl of the fourth/tenth century say about this 

Out of respect for Abu Yazld, his relations did 
not live in the house after his deattu People used to 
visit it and perform prayers in it (Nur, p. 48). 

^These Bedouin may have been central Asian nomads. 


perhaps because he feared it would produce a sense of 
pride in him.'®' So he used to go instead to another 
mosque which was a little farther from his house. In 
the beginning, this was a small mosque, but it was 
later enlarged by one al-Wafid who removed a straw- 
stack that was attached to it.^ ‘Umayy Musa further 
enlarged the mosque in the year 300/912. 1 2 * 4 * 6 

Upon his return to Bis-fcam, Abu Yazld lived in 
the house referred to above^ and occasionally visited 
a cell ( sawma* ah ) which he had himself built. During 
the later part of his life he took up residence in the 
cell and divided most of his time between this cell 
and the mosque 

1 Kur, p. 47. 

2 Ibid. 

^Nur, pp. 47-48. 

According to a story narrated by al-Sahlagi, one 
night Abu Yazid wished that the mosque were larger. God 
caused the same_idea to occur in the mind of al-Wafid. 
Therefore, al-Wafid enlarged the mosque the next day 
( ibid .) . 

4 Ibid., p. 48. 

^ Supra , p. 72. 

6 Nur , p. 48. 


9. His Neighbours and his Relationship with them 

As we have seen before, there were Magians^ and 


Bedouin in his locality. In fact there were Magians in 
his immediate neighbourhood.^ His relationship with 

these neighbours was very cordial. He used to help them 

4 5 

in times of need and to visit them when they fell sick. 

1 Supra , p . 55 . 

^Supra , p . 72. 

^He could even hear the Magian children crying in 
their homes ( Tadhkirat , I, 149). 

^Tadhkirat , I, 149. 

^Nur, p. 91. 

It is not only that Abu Yazld himself helped the 
needy and visited the sick, but also that he advised 
his followers to do the same. He said, "The nearest to 
God are those who are most generous to His creatures" 
(Nur, p. 137; Hilyah , X, 38; Kawakib , p.247). Another 
time he said, "Whoever refrains from reciting the 
Qur’an, performing prayers in the congregation, 
attending funerals and visiting the sick, and (yet)_ 
claims this (mystical) position, is a pretender" (Nur, 
pp. 94-95. ‘A-fct?ar also quotes this tradition [ Tadhkirat , 

I, 154] with some variations. For example, ' funerals ' 
in ‘Avar’s quotation is qualified by ’Muslim * 1 . This is 
a clear example of how ‘A^ar adds to the material that 
he quotes from others. Most likely, he got the tradi- 
tion from al-Sahlagl; for, it is almost an exact transla- 
tion of the saying in Nur . Yet he adds the word ’Muslim' 
to qualify 'funerals' probably with the pious intention 
of avoiding confusion on the part of the reader who 
might think that Abu Yazld intended his followers to 
attend the funerals of both Muslims and non-Muslims) • 

Cf. also Abu Yazid' s saying about visiting the 
sick: Mir ’at , p. 166; Bilyah , X, 38. 


The neighbours, in turn, had great respect for Abu 

Tazld. As we have mentioned above, the Bedouin used to 

stand up in honour of Abu Yazld. ^ On one occasion we 

find that a Magian neighbour on his death bed raised 

his head in honour of Abu Yazld when the latter came 


to visit him. Perhaps there was also a borrowing 
lending relationship between Abu Yazld' s family and 
the Magians; for, the neighbours from whom such items 
as fuel oil^ were borrowed, were probably the Magian 

Abu Yazld' s cordial relationship with the 
Magians is significant; for^it shows on the one hand 
that he was open-minded to the point that religious 
difference did not constitute a deterrent to neighbour- 
liness, and that, on the other hand, he was held in 
high esteem even by those belonging to other faiths. 
His open-mindedness is also shown by the fact that 
once, while passing by a Christian monastery ( dayr ), 

^ Supra , p. 72 . 

^Nur, p, 91 • 

This man is believed to have accepted Islam at 
Abu Yazld' s hand shortly before his (the neighbour's) 
death ( ibid . ) . 

^ Ibid, , p. 70. 


he is believed to have asked a monk if there was a 
clean (i|hir) place available in the monastery in which 
he could perform his prayers . 1 Perhaps it was in this 
monastery that Abu Yazld lived for forty days, par- 
taking of the monks' food and drink and attending a 

great feast. 

10. Abu Yazld' s Dress and Eating Habits 

According to the §ufl custom, Abu Yazld wore 
patched-frock ( muraqqa* ah ) He also had a pelt.* 1- In 
fact, he had three sets of clothing and shoes — one 
for use in the room ( bayt ) ^ another for use in the 
washroom and the third for use in the mosque.^ This 
should not, however, give us the impression that 

1 Mir]_at, p.170-171. 

2 0issat Abl Yazld . p. 173 . 

3 Mir*at . p. 171 . 

^Nur, p. 142. 


T B&yj usually signifies cell ( sawma]_ah) . Since Abu 
Yazid had a cell in which he used "co spend most of the 
time, bayt here most probably refers to his cell. 

^Kur, p. Ill; Tadhkirat , I, 141. 


he loved luxury. ^ Wearing different clothing at diffe- 
rent places actually signifies the extreme caution that 
he took in matters of ritual purification which are a 
necessary pre-condition of prayer. For example, to make 
sure that his dress and shoes were pure, he would not 
wear those things in the mosque which he had worn in 
the wash-room. 

p i- 

A rigorous ascetic, Abu Yazld did not eat or 
drink more than was absolutely necessary to keep him 
alive. Asked how he had achieved what he had achieved,^ 


he replied, "By an empty stomach and a naked body." 

"Hunger", he said, "is (like) clouds. When a man is 


hungry, his heart sends down the rain of wisdom." 
Nevertheless, we should not think that he had no con- 
cern for the quality of food he ate. According to one 

"Hfhen he died he left behind nothing except the 
frock he was wearing. He had borrowed this dress from 
someone so that after his death it was returned to its 
owner ( Luma * , p. 188). 

2 Infra, pp. 141-149 (especially). 

^That is, how he had achieved ma^rifah. 

^Nur, g. 118; Mir 8 at . p. 166; Risalah . pp. 14 and 
156: Tabaqat (Sulami) , p. 66. Var . I^ur , p . 112; 

Kawakib , p. 247. 

^ Nur . p. 156; Bilyah . X, 59. Var. Tadhkirat, I, 167 
Kawakib . p . 247 . 


story, when one of his disciples bought him burnt bread, 
he remarked, "They (bread-sellers) believe, as it were* 
that the §ufls ( mutaqarribun ) will eat anything!" and 
asked him to return it to the owner and to get good 
quality bread instead. ^ 

11. Did he Have a Profession ? 

Did Abu Yazld have a profession whereby he 
earned his livelihood? The sources do not tell us any- 
thing on this point. Perhaps he did not have a profes- 
sion; for, we find him spending most of the time either 
in the cell or in the mosque. But then the question is: 
How did he meet his expenses? 

One could answer that with the kind of asceti- 
cism that he practiced, he did not need much for his 
livelihood. This argument might have some merit if he 

had lived alone. But, as we have pointed out, he may 


have had a family to support. Moreover, many disciples 
and visitors stayed with him on occasion, sometimes 
for long periods of time,^ We may reasonably expect 

■^Nur, p. 90. 


Supra , pp . 65-66. 

^Infra, p . 99 • 


that Abu Yazid provided food and accommodation for them. 
How could he manage to meet all these expenses? We may 
presume that he inherited wealth from his father. As a 
renowned man of Bis"fcam, 1 Isa may have left behind some 
valuable property for his sons. What is certain is that 
some of his wealthy disciples helped him financially. 

We know of at least one rich disciple by the name of 
Ibrahim Mu 4 adhan who used to give Abu Yazld a great 
deal of help. Al-Sahlagi tells us that Ibrahim, an 
honest cloth-merchant,^ used to send to Abu Yazid every 
day all that was needed for one hundred persons or 
more . 2 * For this act of great generosity, Abu Yazid re- 
marked, "God has a friend named Ibrahim;^ We too have 
a friend called Ibrahim ■>" 

■^Nur, p. 61. 

He was so honest that he would not sell clothes 
on a cloudy day for fear that the clothes would look 
better on such a day and that this might deceive the 
customers ( ibid . ) . 

2 Ibid. 

^That is, Ibrahim khalil Allah (Qur’an, 4:125)« 

^ Nur , p. 61. 


12. Was he Illiterate? 

As far as we know, Abu Yazid was illiterate 
( ummi ) in respect of exoteric knowledge ( * ilm al-gahir ).^ 
His childhood education consisted only in learning the 

interpretation of the Qur’an up to the chapter of 

_ p 

According to a tradition narrated by al-Sahlegi, 
an ‘alim once criticized Abu Yazid by saying that his 
statements did not constitute real * ilm (knowledge). 

Abu Yazid replied, "(Go and) look on such and such page 
of such and such book of yours, and you will find there 
what I am saying." The ‘alim did what he was asked to 
do and found in the book something which had reference 

_ _ 7 . 

to what Abu Yazid was saying.^ 

This story may be interpreted to mean that Abu 
Yazid was literate, and that, therefore, our previous 
statement about his illiteracy is wrong. In fact, this 
is not the case. This story only emphasises the point 
that Abu Yazid did not need books ; for, the idea was 

1 Ibid. , p. 53. 

2 Supra , Pp.59 and 67. 

^Nur, p. 53 « 


that even without reading any book he knew all that was 
contained in books. This is because he was gifted with 
esoteric knowledge ( * ilm al-batin ) 

That Abu Yazid was gifted with esoteric know- 
ledge is clear from another conversation possibly with 
the same ‘alim referred to above. When the c alim criti- 
cized him by saying that what he was saying was no part 
of knowledge, Abu Yazid asked, "Have you reached all 
knowledge?" The * alim replied in the negative. Then Atu 
Yazid said, "This knowledge (I am talking about) belongs 


to the half (of knowledge) that you do not know." 
Obviously, this half refers to esoteric knowledge. It 
is perhaps because of his possession of a high degree 
of esoteric knowledge that Abu Yazid was given the 
title sultan al-‘arifln , the "king of 'knowers' " .^ Per- 
haps for the same reason al-Junayd remarks, "Abu Yazid 


is among us like Gabriel among angels." 

1 Ibid. 

2 Ibid. 

^Ibid. , p. 14-7; Tadbkirat,_I, 134 and 156; Shams 
al-Dln MuTjammad al-Af lakf , Manacjib al-* Arif In (Ankara: 
Turk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 1959)* 256. 

^Tadhkirat, I, 134. 

Al-Junayd also has more critical remarks about Abu 
Yazid. We shall discuss these later ( infra , pp. 283-285). 


13 • A bu Yazld as the Narrator of a Tradition 

Abu Yazld was also the narrator of a Prophetic 
Tradition ( hadlth) . He narrated the following Tradition 
through a long chain of transmitters which ultimately 
goes back to the Prophet: 

It is due to the weaknesses of certitude ( yaqln) 
that you satisfy people at the expense of God's 
resentment (sakhat ) . praise them for the provision 
(riza) given by Eim, and blame them for things for 
which God does not punish you. God's provision can- 
not be drawn to you by the greed of the greedy, nor 
can it be prevented (from you) by the grudge (karh) 
of the grudging. Indeed, God, may He be exalted, 
through His wisdom and greatness, has put happiness 
( f arb ) ana comfort ( raub ) in satisfaction ( rida ) , 
and anxiety ( hamm ) and sorrow ( buzn ) in doubt and 
discontentment (sakha$) . ^ 

Several ideas contained in this Tradition are 
important to Abu Yazld' s thinking. The real believer is 
satisfied only with God; he has nothing to do with 
creatures. Herein lies the idea of renouncing creatures 


as an aspect of the mortification of the Self. More- 
over, the real believer considers God as the giver of 
all provisions according to His will. Hence he is 

^ Hilyah , X, 4-1* Var. Nur, p. 63; Tabaqat (Sulamx), 

p. 61. 

^Infra, pp. 137-156. 


content with what God has given, and this brings him 
happiness and comfort. Here we find the ideas of trust 

1 P 

( tawakkul ) and satisfaction ( rida ) . 

14. His School of Law (Madhhab ) 

There is a controversy about the school of 
Islamic Law to which Abu Yazld belonged. One group of 
writers^ believes that he belonged to the school 
(madhhab) of Abu §anlfah (d. 150/767). But Ibn Munawwar 
argues that this was impossible; for, according to him, 
Abu Yazld accepted Ja‘far al-§adiq as his master and, 
therefore, must have belonged to the school of the 
master. The master did not belong to the $anafi school. 

Ibn Munawwar' s argument would be valid if 
Ja‘far al-§adiq really had been Abu Yazld' s master. Bub 

^ Infra , p. 144, n. 3. 


On this, see Ta* arruf , pp. 102-103; Risalah, 
pp. 96-99 » etc. 

^E.g., Ibn Munawwar (Asrar, p. 20) and An§arx 
( Tabaqat p. 88). 

Ibn Munawwar, Asrar . p. 20. 

Abu ganlfah Nu*man b. Thabit was gossibly^the 
pupil of Ja 4 far al-§adiq (Muhammad Va.1i Tabrlzl^ 
Rayfcanat al-Adab [n.p.: Shirkat SihamI Tab* Kitab, 

lWJ, p. 50;. 


we have seen previously that this was not the case.'*' 
Abu Yazld' s master Ja‘far, if indeed Abu Yazld had a 
master by this name, was not the celebrated Ja‘far al- 
§adiq but some other Ja‘far who could very well have 
belonged to the §anafx school of Law. 

It is possible that Abu Yazld belonged to the 
IJanafx school of Law. The majority of the scholars con— 

O _ 

sider him a IJanafx, and we find him agreeing with Abu 
Qanlfah on the question of the nature of faith (xman). 
According to Abu Qanxfah, faith consists in verbal 
profession ( qawl ) of belief in God^etc. and in veri- 
fication ( tagdxq ) , whereas the other three schools of 

1 Supra , pp. 69-70. 

Massignon describes Abu Yazld as a former §anafx 
with Mu‘tazilah tendencies who later converted to 
§ufxsm ( Essai , p. 275 ). We cannot agree with Massignon 
on two points. First, even if Abu Yazld were a ^anafx, 
his conversion to §ufxsm does not mean that he renounced 
the school of Law to which he belonged. But this is what 
Massignon' s description implies. We should keep in mind 
that §ufxs are first Muslims and then §ufxs, or better 
still, _they are Muslim plus something extra which makes 
them §ufxs. Hence, there is no escape for a genuine §ufl 
from the obligations of a Muslim, and to belong to one 
of the four schools of Law is one such obligation. Se- 
condly, we do not find any evidence to show that Abu 
Yazld had Mu‘tazilah tendencies. 


Kashf, p. 368; also supra , p. 83. 


Law add action C amal ) to verbal profession and 

15. His Conscientiousness 

Abu Yazld was very conscientious about eating 
permissible ( halal) food and using permissible things. 

We have mentioned the story of how, even before his 
birth, he is believed to have caused stirring in the 
womb of his mother whenever she approached forbidden 
food. 2 In his later life he was certainly very concerned 
about this problem. Once, for example, when, on inquiry, 
his mother informed him that during his childhood she 
had taken a little bit of oil and of kohl ( kuhl ) from 
neighbours without their permission and used these on 
his head and eyes respectively, he remarked, 

God will take account of the people for the measure 
of an atom.,.. Do you not know (lit. see) God's 
saying, "Whosoever will do good in the measure of 
an atom will see it (i.e., be rewarded for it) and 
whosoever will do evil in the measure of an atom 
will see it (i.e., be punished for it)"?^ And this 

■^Kashf, p. 568. 


Supra , p . 55 • 

^Qur’an, 99:7-8. 


is more than an atom. I fear that this will cut me 
off from my Lord. 

Then he located the neighbours, sought forgiveness from 
them and thus freed himself and his mother from the 
burden. ^ On another occasion, while on his way to the 
mosque by a muddy road, his feet slipped, and he saved 
himself from falling by hanging on to a wall which. be- 
longed to a Magian. At once he realized that he had 
done this without the permission of the owner of the 
wall. Hence he went to the Magian to seek his forgive- 
ness first and then went to the mosque for the perform- 


ance of his duties to God. 

Abu Yazid' s extreme conscientiousness is best 
exemplified in the following story. On his way back 
from his pilgrimage at Mecca, he bought some seeds of 

*^Nur, pp. 108-109* 

Sometimes we find Abu Yazid perceiving a connec- 
tion between his feeling of discomfort and the use of 
forbidden things. Once he attributed his failure to 
experience the joy of worship to a lick of a neigh- 
bour’s food without his permission during his child- 
hood ( ibid . . p.' 71) . On another occasion, he attributed 
his feeling of discomfort from the light of a lamp to 
his having used a borrowed bottle of burning oil twice 
instead of once ( ibid . , p. 70). 

2 Ibid., p. 72. 

The Magian was so much impressed by this act of 
Abu Yazid that he and his family are reported to have 
accepted Islam ( ibid .) . 


safflower (* usfur ) at Hamadan. When he arrived at 
Bis^am, he discovered that he had brought some ants 
with the seeds. He felt that he had no right to dis- 
locate the ants in this way. Hence he went back all the 
way to Hamadan and released the ants there. 

16. Abu Yazld' s Humility 

Abu Yazld exhibited a great sense of humility 
( tawadu * ) , a virtue considered very important by §ufls. 
According to him, humility is a quality which belongs 
to man and not to God.^ He said that when he failed to 
reach God by various means, God ordered him to approach 
Him with something which He did not have. Surprised, 

Abu Yazld asked, "Oh God! What is it that You do not 
have?" The reply came, "Humility."^ Hence we find Abu 
Yazld very humble before God. In spite of a great deal 

1 Risalah, p. 57; Tadhkirat, I, 159. 

According to another story, Abu Yazid, in order to 
dry his wet clothing, could not spread it on the vine- 
yard because he did not get permission from its owner, 
nor on the tree because he thought that the branches 
might break due to its weight, nor even on the grass be- 
cause God has made it a fodder for animals^ Finally, he 
spread it on his back until it dried ( Mir’ at . p. 163). 

^Tadhkirat, I, 159* 

5 Ibid. , 155. Var. Hilyah . X, 40; Kawakib, p. 250. 


of worship that he performed, he said, "If one utterance 
of the formula 'There is no god but God' were pure, I 
would not have cared for anything after that." 1 * * One 
morning, after a whole night of prayer, he asked God 
to count him as one of those who do not pray. He said 
to his disciples, "When you stand before God, make your- 
self like a Magian who is willing to cut the Magian 
girdle in His presence."^ Once he said that for thirty 
years he had tried to enter the court of God, but God 
refused him admission because his hands did not knock 
at the door with humility, his tongue did not implore 
God with humility and his feet did not walk with 
humility. 4 Before his death, Abu Yazld felt very much 
ashamed of the acts of worhip which he had performed 
throughout his life. Hence he addressed God saying, 

All that is nothing ; consider it as naught. I am 
a Turkaman of seventy years whose hair has turned 
white due to pagandom ( gebrl) . Right now I am 

*^Nur, p. 82; Hilyah ^ X, 40; Kawakib , p. 247» Var. 
Tadhkirat, I, 171. 

^Tadhkirat, I, 157* 

%ilyah , X, 40. Var. Nur, p. 69; Kawakib , p. 247. 

4 Tadhkirat, I, 159* 


coming from the desert crying Tangri , TangrI .'*' Only now 
am I learning to say 'Allah' 'Allah'; only now am I 
cutting the Magian girdle; only now I step into the 

circle of Islam; only now I move my tongue with the 

— 2 

attestation of faith ( shahadah) . . . 

Abu Yazld was also humble before God's creatures. 

According to him, a true worshipper considers himself 

the worst of all creatures. As long as a man thinks that 

there is anyone in this world more evil than himself, he 

is boasting ( mutakabbir ) Asked when a man becomes 

humble, he said, "When he does not find for himself any 

station ( maqam) or state ( bal ) and he does not find any- 


one in creation worse than himself." There are several 
instances which indicate Abu Yazld' s humility before 
creatures. He said, 

^This is the name of the Mongol sky god. Here Abu 
Yazld meant to say that he was still a pagan crying 
with the name of a pagan god. 

^ Tadhkirat , I, 177* 

According to another tradition, Abu Yazld uttered 
the following words before his death, "Oh Godi I never 
remembered You except with heedlessness and_I never 
served You except with gaps " ( Tabaqat [An§arl] , p. 30. 
Var. Luma 4 , p. 210; Risalah, p . 1$3 ; Tadhkirat , I, 177)* 

5 Nur, p. 135; Hilyah , X, 36. Var. Kawakib , p. 247. 

4 - - , 

Risalah . p. 75; Tabaqat al-Kubra , p. 61. 


Whoever does not consider my witnessing ( shahid) ^ 
with the eye of harm ( idtirar ) , my mystical moments 
C awqat) with the eye of deception ( istidra.i) , my 
speech (kalam) with the eye of deceit (iftira* ), my 
explanation ( * ibarah) with the eye of risk (ijtira’), 
and my Self (nafs) with the eye of accusation 
(izra’), has been mistaken in considering me.^ 

One night, a drunken young man, while playing on the 
lute, approached Abu Yazld. Abu Yazld uttered the for- 
mula " La bawla wa la quwwata ilia bi-Allah al-*aliyy a l- 
* azlm **C there is no power and strength except with God, 
the Great and Mighty) . Thereupon the young man struck 
Abu Yazld' s head with the lute and wounded him. But his 
lute broke too. The next morning, Abu Yazld sent the 
price of a lute to the young man so that he could buy 
a new one; he also sent some sweetmeats to remove from 

the young man's heart the sorrow caused by the breakage 


of the lute the previous night. On another occasion 
Abu Yazld' s walking stick (* aga ) caused the stick of 

^Perhaps Abu Yazid meant by this confession of the 
oneness of God (shahadah) . 

p — 

In the §ufl language, istidra.i refers to a decep- 
tive miracle given to a sinner or an unbeliever* 

%ur, p. 1J6. Var. gilyah , X, 40; Tabaqat (An§arl), 

p. 88. 

4 Tadhkirat, I, 144-145. 


an old man to fall to the floor of a mosque. The old 

man stooped over and picked up his stick. Abu Yazid 

later went to the old man' s house and offered an apo- 


logy for the trouble that he had caused. 

Abu Yazid also displayed humility in his rela- 
tions with animals. Once when he was walking on a nam>w 
road with a group of disciples, a dog came from the 


other direction, and he made way for the dog first. 

In fact, according to ‘A^ar, Abu Yazid considered 
himself inferior to dogs in many ways. To him, dogs 
were unclean only outwardly, but he was unclean inward- 
ly; dogs shunned human company, whereas he had accepted 
it; and dogs did not keep a single piece of bone for 
the morrow, but he stored up provisions for the future. 

17. His Love for Solitude 

Abu Yazid had a great love for solitude. We are 
told that upon entering his cell, he used to close all 

1 Ibid, 152-155; Risalah , p. 57; Mir* at , p. 165. 

Abu Yazid was also very generous. He prayed to God 
saying, "Oh Godl Whoever has done wrong to me, either by 
action or by words, shower Your blessings on him in the 
way the wind blows and piles up the snow in the valley" 
(Nur, p. 142). 

2 Tadhkirat , I, 145. 

5 Ibid. 


its holes so that no sound could distract his atten- 
tion. 1 2 * * 5 He also had the habit of wandering around in 

graveyards. The incident of the drunken youth's 
wounding Abu Yazld' s head and breaking his own lute-' 
took place on a night when Abu Yazld was returning from 
a graveyard. Once a year he used to visit the graves of 
Muslim martyrs On one occasion, we find him coming out 
of a forest with a water-container in his hands and an 
old coat under his arms.^ The water-container in his 
hands may indicate that he had stayed in the forest for 
a long time. 

18. His Challenger 

Sometimes pious Muslims became challengers 
C munazi * ) of one another. They competed with each other 
in virtuous acts. These challengers usually belonged to 
more or less the same spiritual rank. The man who con- 
sidered himself the challenger of Abu Yazld was one 

1 Ibid. , p. 140. 

2 rbid., p. 144. 

^ Supra , p. 90. 

^Tadhkirat, II, 201. 

5 Ibid., I, 142. 

Dawud, an ascetic from Dahistan. He said, "If Abu Yazld 

performed the pilgrimage once, I did it twice, and if 

he visited the convent ( ribat ) of Dahistan (once), I 

visited it thrice. If he did such and such, I did that 

and more." 1 2 * 4 Actually, to outdo Abu Yazld, Dawud would 


do more and more acts of piety. Interestingly enough, 

Abu Yazld' s reactions to Dawud were more challenging 

than Dawud' s challenge to Abu Yazld. Referring to his 

challenger, Abu Yazld said, "Yes, he did what I did. 

But the commander of the faithful ( amir al-mu’minin ) 

is one. If someone came from Nikarumnu^ and said, 'I 

am the commander of the faithful', his neck would be 

cut quickly." 

According to al-Sahlagi, the spiritual rank of 
Abu Yazld was superior to that of Dawud. Al-Sahlagl 


claims that this knowledge was revealed to him by God. 

^Nur , pp. 61-62. 

2 Ibid., p. 62. 

^Al-Sahlagl tells us that__this is an agricultural 
village near the town of Bis'fcam (ibid.). 

4 Ibid., p. 62. 

Cf. also Kawakib « p. 245. 

^Nur, p. 62. 


‘A^tar tells us of another man, a devoted 
Qur’an-reader ( qarra ) who offered a kind of challenge 
to Abu Yazld, although the spiritual level of the for- 
mer had no comparison with that of Abu Yazld. Abu Yazld 
made this remark to him, "Did you not know that the 


burden of elephants is never put on donkeys?" 

19. Abu Yazld* s Travels 

Al-Qushayrl is right in his remark that Abu Yazld 
belonged to that group of the §ufls who preferred 
staying in one place over travelling.^ Abu Yazld dis- 
liked travelling and thus spent most of his time at 
Bis'fcam. When asked why he disliked travelling, he 

replied, "My companion (i.e., God) does not travel and 


I live ( muqlm ) with Him." Then the questioner res- 
ponded by way of an analogy, "Static water is impure. 

It is unfit for ritual purification (wugu)." 5 In reply, 
Abu Yazid quoted a Prophetic Tradition which states 

^This is the emphatic from of qari 1 . 

^Tadhkirat , I, 151* 

^Risalah, p. 143. 

^Afcmad b. Khatjruyah (Nur, p. 77; Tadhkirat , I, 148). 

^ Hilyah , X, 34. Var. Nur . p. 77; Mir Vat , p. 165; 
Tadhkirat, I, 168. 


that the water of the sea is pure and that it is per- 
missible ( halal ) to eat its dead fish. Then he added 
that when the rivers flow towards the sea, they make 
noise. But when they reach the sea they become quiet, 
and the water of the sea is neither increased by their 
incoming nor decreased by their out-going.^ obviously, 
Abu Yazld implied here that travelling belongs to the 
stage of novices (salikun) and not to that of the §ufis 
who have already reached the goal. 

This explains the apparent contradiction be- 
tween our previous statement that he travelled from 


place to place serving a large number of masters and 
our present statement that because of his dislike of 
travelling he stayed most of the time in Bis^am. As a 
novice he travelled, but after he came back to Bistrim 
and settled there as a §ufl, he did not travel much. 
Roughly speaking, we can assume that the first period 
extended from the age of ten up to the age of forty^ 

1 Hilyah, X, 54-35. Var. Nur,pp. 124 and 77; Kir’ at, 
p. 165 ; TacThkirat , I, 148. 


Supra , pp . 67-68. 

^Our calculation is based on the assumption that he 
left Bis-fcam at the age of ten. ^or, this would perhaps 
be the appropriate age for attending the Qur’anic 
schools in that day. Then he travelled^for thirty years 
( supra ,p p .87-68) before he became a §ufl and came back to 
Bis^am. This assumption is further supported by the 


and the second from the age of forty-one to the age of 
seventy three. 

During this second period, he did some travel- 
ling. For, it seems that he went to Mecca for pilgrimage 
more than once and at least one of the pilgrimages 
must have taken place during this second period.^ - Also 
he travelled every year during his visits to the graves 


of the Muslim martyrs. Moreover, he was forced to 
travel when he was exiled from Bis^am.^ 

20. His Exiles 

- T - 4 

Abu Yazid was exiled from Bis^am seven times. 

We do not know where he lived during the periods of 

significance which is attached to the fortieth year of 
life. The fortieth year is considered the point of 
reaching perfection. Muhammad, for example, is believed 
to have received revelation when he was forty. In the 
case of Abu Yazid too, perhaps his master declared his 
novitiate complete at the age of forty. 

^We have mentioned his pilgrimage which took place 
sometime during his life as a novice ( supra , p . 71 ) . 

We also know of his journey to Mecca with his sister's 
husband. Probably^ the second journey took place in the 
latter part of Abu Yazid' s life; for^he is said to have 
performed miracles on the way to Mecca ( infra , p . 113) . 

2 „ 

Supraa . p . 92 . 

^ Infra . p p . 96-97- 

^ Nur , p. 48; Tadhkirat, I, 139; Kawakib . p. 245. 


exile. But we can presume that at no time was he re- 
quired to stay out of Bis^am for a long time and that 
he did not have to suffer much hardship on account of 
his exiles.'*' Otherwise, our sources would not have re- 
mained silent on these matters. 

Why was Abu Yazld exiled? The reason is 
obvious — opposition of the ‘ulama* . His teachings, 
according to them, were contrary to the principles of 
Shari c ah . We are told that Abu Yazld was exiled be- 
cause the externalists ( ahl-i Zahir) were unable to 


understand his high spiritual teachings. We know of 
several of his encounters with the ‘ulama’ . In one of 
these encounters, for example, he told an ‘alim that 
his sayings belonged to that half of knowledge which 
the latter did not know.^ In another encounter he told 
a jurist ( faqlb ) . who happened to be the ‘alim of the 
region ( nabiyah ) , that the knowledge of the latter was 
gained from others through oral transmission whereas 

■h?or more on this, infra , pp. 275-282. 

^Tadhkirat, I, 139; Kawakib , p. 245. 

5 Nur, p. 53. 


his own knowledge was given directly by God.^ He cited 
several examples to prove that it is possible for man 
to receive knowledge directly from God. He said that 
Muhammad had knowledge from God of which neither Gabriel 


nor Michael were aware; he saw God face to face; Moses 

talked to God, and about this God said, "And We taught 

him knowledge from Us."^ Abu Bakr, the first caliph, 

had an intuitive knowledge (firasah)^ as shown by the 

fact that his prediction about the birth of a girl came 


true, and so on. 

We do not know which particular ‘alim or ‘ulaga* 
were instrumental in banishing Abu Yazid from Bis^am. 

^Another time Abu Yazid said that others got know- 
ledge from the dead (scholars, narrators and others) 
while he received it from the Living (God) ( ibid . , p. 

77 ) > and that others discuss about God while he spoke 
directly from Him ( ibid . . pp. 77 and 81). 

^This refers to the famous Night Journey ( mi* raj ) 
of the Prophet. For a discussion on this, infra . pp. 191 
(and 192), n. 3« 

-'’Qur’an, 18: 65. 

^For more on firasah, infra , pp. 115-118. 

^ Nur , p. 88; Tabaqat al-Kubra , p. 61. 

Abu Yazid also cited a reported saying of the 
Prophet that knowledge is of two kinds — external 
knowledge (* ilm zahir ) which is God's proof (bu j 3 ah) 
to His creatures and hidden knowledge ( ilm batin ) 
which is useful knowledge, and said that the knowledge 
of the jurists belonged to the first kind whereas his 
own knowledge belonged to the second ( Nur , pp. 87-88). 


21. His Visitors. Disciples and Associates 

Abu Yazid was very hospitable. The fact that 
Ibrahim Mu‘adhan used to send him the provision for one 
hundred persons or more every day^ shows that he enter- 
tained a large number of guests. He had the habit of 
going a distance from his house, sometimes with his 


disciples, to welcome visitors. Some of his visitors 
stayed with him for a considerable length of time.^ 

This hospitable nature of Abu Yazid and his reputation 
as a §ufl secured for him a number of friends, asso- 
ciates and visitors. The following were the most impor- 
tant of them: 

i) Abu Musa Day bull 

We do not know much about him. According to 
al-Sahlagl, he came to visit Abu Yazid and stayed longer 
than he planned. Du~ . g his stay, he benefited greatly 
from Abu Yazid’ s teachings and memorized many of his 

1 Supra , p. 79 . 

2 Mir’at . p. 165; Nur, pp. 56 and 77- 

This shows that Massignon' s accusation that Abu 
Yazid was solitary and rude, and thus "refused all signs 
of fraternal affiliation either with Ibn $arb or with 
Mi§rl" (Essai, p. 275) is wrong. 

^Abu Musa Daybull, for example, stayed at Abu Yazld's 
place for a month ( Mir * at . p. 168). 


utterances.^" He was the second most important narrator 
of Abu Yazld' s traditions. 

Abu Musa al-DaybulI belonged to Armenia. On tte 
eve of his departure for his native land, Abu Yazld 
gave him the following advice: 

Oh Abu Musa l You are leaving for the country of 
Armenia. There if you find someone talking about 
these (mystical) sciences, and someone else denying 
him and another accepting and believing in him, ask 
the one accepting and believing in him to pray to 
God for things, because his prayer will be granted 
(by Him). * 2 

The significance of this story lies in the fact 
that Abu Yazld was sending Abu Musa al-DaybulI as a 
missionary ( da 4 I ) for the propagation of the §ufl way 
of life among the Armenians. The characteristic way of 
propagating any faith is by telling people: "If you do 
such and such, you will receive such and such rewards 
from God.” In the same way, Abu Yazld seems to have 
tried to propagate §ufism by having the Armenians told 
that if they accepted what §ufls were saying, their 

“Nur, p. 54. 

2 Ibid. , pp. 54- 


prayers to God would be fulfilled.’*' It is interesting 
to note that Abu Yazxd was not asking al-DaybulI to 
inform the §ufls of this matter, for they knew this 
already, and they did not need to be converted to the 
§ufi way. Abu Yazxd was interested in getting others 
to join his fold. 

ii) Abu $amid Afcmad b. 


On his way to Mecca, Aftmad b. Kha^ruyah, a well- 

known §ufl of Balkh, came to visit Abu Yazxd at Bisijam. 

- 3 

He was accompanied by his wife Fa'fcimafcr who was herself 


a §ufx and the daughter of the prince of Balkh, and a 

^On another occasion Abu Yazxd invited people to 
§5fxsm in this way: 

Come to the desire (ra ghbah) of ascetics ( zahidun) , 
to the yearning ( shawq J of those who follow the 
path ( darinun ) , to the confidence (rukun) of the 
forgetful i mutanasiyyun ) , to the love ( bubb ) of 
those who have reached (God) ( wagilun ) , to the joy 
of those who have reached the goal ( muttasilun) and 
to the friendship (uns) of the Lord of the worlds 
(ibid., p. 100). 

2 He died in 240/854-855. 

^ Tabaqat (Angarx) , p. 83; Kashf, p. 149. 

^Kashf, p. 149. 

For a story of Fa'timah's removal of her veil in the 
presence of Abu Yazxd and conversation between her and 
Abu Yazxd, see Kashf, p. 150. 

Referring to Fa^imah's greatness, Abu Yazld remrkBd; 
"Whoever wishes to see an important man in women's 


large number of his disciples. * 1 These disciples were 
believed to have attained such a high mystical station 
■bhat each one of them was gifted with miraculous powers 
to walk on water and fly in the air. 2 Aljmad considered 
himself very insignificant in comparison with Abu Yazld'. • 
Before entering Abu Yazld' s house, he said to his 
disciples, "Let us go (to Abu Yazld' s presence) while 
we consider ourselves as a small coin (hamm) which no 
one would take for anything. Later when he talked to 

dress, let him look at Fatimah" (ibid., p. 150). For 
another tradition regarding Fatimah' s greatness, see 
Nur, p. 154. ’ 

1 Nur, p. 55 • 

According to al-Sahlagi, Aljmad was accompanied by 
one thousand of his disciples. This and many other 
figures occuring in mystical literature should not be 
considered_as exact. When al-Sahlagi says that A^mad 
visited Abu Yazld with one thousand disciples, we 
should t understand that he came with a large number of 
also mentions the same figure (Tadhkirat, 
I, 148). He also points out elsewhere that Aljmad "had" 
one thousand disciples ( ibid ., p.288 ). But it seems 
quite impossible that Aljmad came with the entire group 
of his one thousand disciples all the way from Balkh 
to Bis-fcam. 

2 Wur, p-55; Tadhkirat , I, 148 

For a discussion of the problem of miracles, 
infra , pp. 115 - 120 . 

^ .Ifa-r , p. 55 • 


Abu Yazid, he was unable to grasp the meaning of Abu 
Yazid's speech. Hence he had to ask Abu Yazid to lower 
the level of his speech so that it would be understand- 
able to him. 1 ‘Attar tells us that Ab5 Yazld had to 
lower the level of his speech seven times before Afcmad 
could comprehend what Abu Yazld was saying.^ This shows; 
the estimation of the greatness of Abu Yazld. His mys- 
tical level was considered so high that he had to bring 
down the level of his speech seven stages below the nor- 
mal to make it comprehensible to Afcmad who was himself 
the master of those who had attained such a high mysti- 
cal station that they could walk on water and fly in 
the air. 

Before his departure from Abu Yazid's place, 
A&mad remarked, "Everyone I met I called (invited) to 
God except Abu Yazid. He is the one whom I called (away) 
from God. This means that all those whom Aljmad met 
before were in a state of heedlessness; and, therefore, 
he had to invite and guide them to God. But in the case 
of Abu Yazid he had to do just the opposit e. Abu Yazid 

1 Ibid. 

2 Tadhkirat . I, 148. 

5 Kur, p. %. Var. ibid ., p. 74 . 


was absorbed in mystical union with God. In order to be 
able to talk to him, Aljmiad had to call him away from God. 

iii) YaTjya b. Mu‘adh al-RazI 

Born in the city of Rayy, Yaljya lived in Balkh 
for a time. He died in Naysabur in the year 258/872. 

Yafcya used to exchange views with Abu Yazid 
through written correspondence. Once he wrote to Abu 
Yazid asking him his opinion about "one who drinks a 
single drop of the ocean of love and becomes intoxicated" 
Abu Yazid sent a reply to this in the form of a question: 
"What do you say of one who, if all the oceans in the 
world were filled with the wine of love, would drink 
them all and still cry for more to slake his thirst?" 1 2 

According to ‘Avar's account, Yaljya also met 
Abu Yazid. ^ During a conversation, Abu Yazid told Yafcya 
that he wanted God Himself and not the mystical stations 

1 According to ‘A^ar, Abu Yazid himself said that 
everyone who came to him to accept his discipleship 
dragged him down (from his high mystical state) so that 
he would be able to talk to the master (Tadhkirat, I, 155). 

2 Kashf , p. 255; trans. Nicholson, p. 187 • Var. Nur, 

P» 156; Risalah , pp. 160 and 42; ffilyah , X, 40; Mir [ at . 
pp. 168-169 ; Tadhkirat , I, 145; Tabaqat al-Kubra V p. 61. 

^Tadhkirat, I, 145-144. 


( maqamat) ; for, the latter are "other" and thus consti- 
tute a veil between him and God. Abu Yazld said, 

If you were granted the election ( saf wat ) of Adam, 
the holiness ( quds ) of Gabriel, the friendship, 
( khillat ) of Abraham, the yearning ( shawq ) of Moses, 
the purity ( taharat ) of Jesus and the love ( mahabbat ;) 
of Muhammad, still you would not be satisfied; you 
would seek what is beyond these,' for ? what is beyond 
is the real objective (lit. tasks, karha). Be the 
possessor of spiritual energy (himmat) . Do not 
descend (into anything); f or ; you will be veiled by 
whatever you descend into.^ 

This also explains why Abu Yazid, in his reply to Yafcya's 
letter, said that even after having drunk the wine of 
love of the seas of the world he was crying for more. 

To become drunken with God's love is far short of 
attaining God Himself. God's love is still "other" and 
thus constitutes a veil. Hence says in his 

Man-fciq al-Tayr . "Even if you have attained to the Throne 
of Glory, do not stop saying at every moment, 'Is there 


any more? ' " 

1 Ibid. , p. 144. 

A^ar, Mantiq al-Tayr , ed^ §adiq Gawhrln (Tehran: 
Bungah-i Tar jumeh-o-Nashr-i Kitab, 1965), p. 195 ; trans. 
b.C. Noth, The Conference of the Birds (London: Janur 

Press, 195477 "p. 157 . 


iv) Dhu al-Nun al-Mi§ri 

A well-known Egyptian §ufl, Dhu al-Nun was born 
at Ekhmin in Upper Egypt about the year 180/796. He 
travelled extensively in Arabia and Syria. He was 
accused of heresy and brought before the caliph 
Mutawakkil at Baghdad.^" Dhu al-Nun was cleared of this 
charge and returned to Cairo where he died in 245/860. 

Dhu al-Nun never met Abu Yazld, but they had 
correspondence with one another through emissaries. 

Once Dhu al-Nun sent one of his disciples to Abu Yazld 
with the following message, "Oh my brother! How long 
shall you sleep and be in comfort while the caravan is 
gone?" In reply, Abu Yazld said, "Tell my brother Dhu 
al-Nun, 'The (real) man is he who sleeps the whole night 
and (yet) reaches the destination ( manzil ) in the 
morning before the caravan.' " When informed of this, 

Dhu al-Nun said, "May he be blessed! This is a speech 
which our states ( abwal ) have not reached." 2 

Dhu al-Nun also sent a disciple to enquire about 
Abu Yazld' s virtue ( gif ah ) . The man came to Abu Yazld' s 






2 Risalah, pp. 102-103. Var. Nur, 
167; TacTHkirat . I, 137 . 


79-80; Mir* at . 


place at Bis^am and knocked at his door. Abu Yazid said, 
"Who are you, and whom do you want?" He replied, "Abu 
Yazid." Abu Yazid said, "Who is Abu Yazid, where is Abu 
Yazid and what thing is he? I have been looking for Abu 
Yazid for a long time, but I have not found him."^ On 
hearing this, the man left the place with the remark, 

"He is a mad man." But when he informed Dhu al-Nun of 

all that had happened, the latter remarked, "My brother 

_ p 

Abu Yazid is one of those who are lost in God." 

Dhu al-Nun sent a prayer carpet to Abu Yazid. 

The latter returned it with the instruction to its 
bearer to tell Dhu al-Nun, "Someone like you needs this 
to perform prayer on it. Send me something to lean my 
back against." Dhu al-Nun then sent him a comfortable 
cushion. But Abu Yazid could not use the cushion either; 
for this happened during the last days of his life when 
hardly anything was left of him except skin and bones. ^ 

We shall consider the significance of Abu 

_ 4 

Yazid' s ideas contained in this correspondence later. 

1 Kashf , p. 322. 

Risalah, p. 41 . (Bor the whole tradition, Var. Nur, 
PP*_65, 73, HO, 117; Tadbkirat, I, 156; ibid ., II,' "72; 
Kawakib, p. 246). 

5 Nur, pp. Ill and 125; Tadhkirat . I, 144. 

^ Infra, p. 177* 


For the time being, we would like to mention two points 
which emerge prominently in these episodes. First, in 
spite of the great difficulties with regard to trans- 
portation in those days, people used to travel long 
distances, from Egypt to Bis-fcam, for example, to convey 
advice, deliver gifts, etc. from one §ufl to another. 
Secondly, only a §ufl could understand the significance 
of what another §£fi would say. We find Dhu al-Nun's 
disciple puzzled at Abu Yazid's saying that he was 
looking for himself. But when he narrated this saying 
to Dhu al-Nun, the master understood it at once. This 
clearly shows the difficulty of communicating mystical 
experience to those who have not had a similar 
experience.^ - 

22. Abu Yazld’s Order 

Al-Hujwirl has divided §ufls, whom he considered 

genuine, into ten groups ( guruh ) — the fayfuris the 


Muljasibls, the Junaydls and others, each named after 
its central personality. He has made the divisions on 

^ Supra . p.xv. 

For more on this, see 1 Abdu-r-Rabb , al-Junayd . 
pp. 1-6. 

2 Kashf, p. 164. 


the basis of differences in their doctrines and practices. 
While discussing the views of the ffayfuris, he says that 
Abu Yazid (fayfur (hence the Tayfuris) and his followers 
preferred intoxication (sukr) to sobriety ( sahw ) 
whereas al-Junayd and his followers (i.e., Junaydls) 
preferred the opposite We shall consider the validity 


of al-Hujwiri's argument later. For the time being, we 
shall restrict the discussion to the (fayfuris as an 
order ( tariqah ) . 

Obviously, the Tayfuris were not an order in the 
sense of the organized orders of later times, e.g., the 
Qaairis, the Chishtls, the Baktashis and others with 
their elaborate rituals, functions and ceremonies. 
Nevertheless, we find Abu Yazid and his followers doing, 
in some form or other, many things which the later 
orders did. 

Abu Yazid was not a solitary ascetic withdrawn 
from the society of men. He used to sit in an assemHy 
( majlis ) of men, answer their questions and advise them 
on different religious matters. The fact that a hundred 

1 Ibid. , pp. 229-230. 


Infra , pp. 



people or so ate at his place every day^ indicates that 
this assembly was a large one. Also people used to come 
from far off places and stay with him for a period of 
time. All this shows that Abu Yazld participated in a 
community which bore some resemblance to the communal 
life of the §ufi orders of a later period. 

These orders emphasized the necessity of the 
master's guidance in the disciple's journey on the §ufl 
path ( tarlqah ) ^ and the disciple's service to and con- 
fidence in the master. We find all these in Abu Yazld' s 
relationship with his followers. Perhaps Abu Yazid was 
the first §ufl to express the disciple's need for the 
master's guidance in such strong terms as these: "If a 
man has no master ( ustadh ) , Satan is his guide ( imam ) . 
Abu Yazid guided his disciples by example and by ins- 
truction. On one occasion, he instructed an aspiring 

^ Supra , p. 79. 

2 Supra , p. 99. 

^This word is used to refer to the §ufl path on 
which a novice is required to travel before he reaches 
the goal, as well as to an organized §ufi order. 

^Risalah, p. 199 • 

In classical Arabic works on §uflsm, the master is 
usually called a shaykh . Here the editor of Risalah may 
have replaced the word ' shaykh ' by the word ' ustadh ' . 


disciple to have his head shaven, to wear a woolen 
cloak (‘aba’), and then to enter the market place so 
that there the people who used to respect him would 
see him in that condition*'*’ This course of action was 


intended to help mortify the Self (nafs) of the person. 
Concerning the disciple's service to his master, Abu 
Yazid said, 

If the master orders the disciple to do something 
worldly and sends him for his (own) good ( fl 
iglahihi ) , and on his way the mu’adhdhin^ of a 
mosque recites the call to prayer and he says (to 
himself): 'I shall first go to the mosque to per- 
form prayer and then go for what the master has 

sent me', then he has fallen into a well the bottom 


of which he will never discover... 

This idea of Abu Yazid is best exemplified by Abu Musa's 


relationship with the master. ' Moreover, the kind of 
unqualified confidence that the disciples had in Abu 
Yazid is shown by an incident which took place perhaps 

^Nur, p. 87- 

The full text of the tradition is quoted on 
pp. 138-140. 


For a discussion on this, infra , pp 134-173. 

'The person who recites the Muslim call to prayer 
( adhan ) . 

4 Nur, p. 144. 

^ Supra , pj?. 61-62. 


the day before his death. A disciple, *Abd Allah 
YunabadI, had come from a neighbouring village to visit 
Abu Yazid. During the visit, Abu Yazid asked ‘Abd Allah 
not to leave for home before performing a funeral prayer 
Cianazalf) . The disciple was so certain that what the 
master said would be true that without question he 
postponed his departure.^" 

Abu Yazid also made a conscious effort to spread 
§ufl ideas and ideals. This is exemplified in his ins- 
tructions to Abu Musa al-DaybulI on the eve of his 

p _ 

departure for Armenia. Moreover, before and after Abu 
Yazid' s death, ‘Umayy Musa acted as a deputy to propa- 
gate Abu Yazid' s ideas. ^ 

In the light of the evidence above, we may con- 
clude that the !fayfurls were an order, although they 
were not so well-organized as the later orders. What is 
significant is that Abu Yazid was perhaps the first to 
have formed a more or less definite order which developed 
with the passage of time and played an important role in 
Islamic history in general and in the history of §uflsm 

■^Infra, p.121. 


Supra , p.100. 

^ Supra, p. 63. 


in particular. Of the §ufl groups mentioned by al- 
Hujwlra^" the (fayfurls were the earliest. 

23. His Miracles 


A large number of miracles ( karamat ) have been 
attributed to Abu Yazld. Once when he sought to cross 
the Tigris, the two banks of the river are said to have 
come together to let Abu Yazld cross without any diffi- 
culty.^ When Abu Yazld was on his way to Mecca, his 
sister's husband ( 1 2 * 4 5 adil ) , who was accompanying him, com- 
plained that Abu Yazld had placed excessively heavy 
luggage on the back of a camel. But then the complainer 
looked and found that the luggage was actually floating 
in the air over the back of the camel. ^ Once during a 
period of drought when he, at the insistence of someone, 
prayed to God for rain, rain is believed to have started 

1 Kashf , p. 164. 

2 - - 

Divine gifts. Karamah (sing, of karamat ) is dis- 
tinguished from mu 4 .iizah (ma.jor miracle) in that the 
former belongs to the level of §ufis while the latter 

is limited to prophets only. 

5 Nur, p. 94. Var. Ibid ., p. 146; Tadhkirat, I, 153. 

A smilar miracle is attributed to Abu al-Husayn al- 
Nurl (d. 295/907-908) (see Luma 4 . p. 324). 

^ Hur , pp . 89-90 . 


pouring in torrents, and immediately valleys and moun- 
tains were flooded. ^ On another occasion, three persons 
were discussing the station of a saint with God. They 
asked Abu Yazld for his opinion on the matter. He 
answered, "I say: the station of the saint with God is 
such that if he says to the mountain 'Move from your 
place', it will move." Although this was only a reply 
to a question, the mountain is said to have actually 

7 , _ 

moved^ because Abu Yazid uttered the words "Move from 
your place." One day, in the presence of Abu Yazid, 
someone said that he had seen al-Khi<3.r and Abu Yazid 
with their hands on each other's shoulders at a funeral 
in (fabaristan, and that Abu Yazid was flying in the air 
after the funeral, Abu Yazid replied, "Yes, that happened"^ 

1 Ibid., p. 112; TadJbkirat, I, 150. 

%!ur , p. 106. 

5 Ibid. 

A mysterious figure in Islam. Many legends are 
associated with him. For information on this figure, see 
The Shorter Encyclopaedia of Islam , pp. 252-235* 

^Nur, p. 112. 

Al-SahlagI tells us that after the attainment of the 
mystical state, Abu Yazid' s wishes and hopes we re reaped 
faster than the twinkling of an eye ( ibid . . p. 125). 

Abu Yazid is believed to have breathed life into an 
ant which he killed by mistake ( Kawakib , p. 245). 


Clairvoyance or thought-reading ( firasah ) has 
also been attributed to Abu Yazld. It was believed that 
he knew other people's thoughts as well as events of 
the future. One day a man had been asked to eat with 
the visitors of Abu Yazid. The man said, "I am fasting." 
Abu Yazld remarked, "Leave him because he has been 
dropped from the eye of God." Shortly thereafter, the 
man was caught stealing, and his hands were cut off as 
a punishment.'*' On another occasion Abu Yazld said that 
he was not sure whether or not a particular jurist 
( faqlh ) . who was envious of Abu Yazid' s position, would 
die as a Muslim. Soon after, the jurist fell sick and 
asked the people to bury him in a Christian cemetery 


because he was really a Christian. Once Abu Yazid re- 
marked to Abu Musa, "I see you between two cradles 
rocking them both." Al-SahlagI tells us that two child- 
ren were born to Abu Musa. One night when they were 
crying in the absence of their mother, Abu Musa sat 
between the two cradles and rocked them both. At that 
time Abu Musa realized that what his master had told 

1 Nur, p. 91. Var. Bisalah . p. 165; Mir* at . p. 165; 
Tadhklrat , I, 152; Kawakib . p. 251. 

^Nur, p. 92. 


him had come to pass 


These and many other stories of a smilar nature 
actually tell us more about Abu Yazid's biographers and 
the popular mind of his day than they tell us about the 
historical Abu Yazid. Nevertheless, we do not mean to 
imply that Abu Yazld did not believe in the possibility 
of being gifted with such powers. When asked about the 
possibility of walking in the air, he replied, 

When the soul (nafs) of man is in agreement with 
his heart ( qalb ) , when his heart rejoices at 
thinking good of the Lord, when his thought is in 
conformity with his will ( iradah ) and when his will 
is united with the will ( mashi 1 ah) of his Creator, 
he wills by God's will, he looks according to God's 

‘ L Ibid. , p. 53- 

It is also believed that if Abu Yazld wished for 
something, the thoughts of others were so affected that 
Abu Yazid's wish was fulfilled. Al-Sahlagi reports that 
Abu Yazid v; as concerned about the heedlessness of the 
shepherds. He wished that one of them would become 
his disciple and that he would then go back to his 
fellow shepherds and lead them to the right path. The 
wish so affected oa‘Id al-Ra‘1 that he gave up his 
attempt to win the heart of a certain woman. Instead he 
came to Abu Yazid and repented (ibid., pp. 56-57) • 

For another story showing the influence of Abu 
Yazid's thought on someone else's mind, supra . 

P . 73 . 


looking, his heart is elevated by God's elevation, 
his soul ( nafs ) moves by the power of God, he goes 
wherever he wants by the will of God — may He be 
exalted — and he descends at whatever place God 
wants him to in thought and in action. This servant 
is with God everywhere, and no place is without 
Him. So, since this servant is with God, no place 
is without him. If he is not with God, he is not 
anywhere. The soul ( nafs) of this man is united 
with his heart, his heart with his thought, his 
thought with his will and his will with the will 
of God. God — may He be exalted — said, "I am 
present in the thought that my servant has of Me." 
So, if God is present in the thought of the ser- 
vant, he is wherever God is when he thinks. Just 
as God is not absent from the servant wherever he 
is, so the servant is not absent from God; he is 
through God with God wherever He is, and God is not 
absent from any particular place. Thus when the 
servant's thought of God is good, when he actually 
thinks of his Lord, when his heart is actually in 
his thought, and when his soul ( nafs ) is actually 
in his heart, he can actually move easily from 
wherever he wishes, by the will of God, to wherever 
he wishes, and everything comes to him while he is 
at his place. Both East and Vest come to him. When- 
ever he thinks of a place, that place comes to him; 
he does not go to that place. He never leaves (his 
place) because he is with the One Who has neither 
beginning nor end; f or ; that one is He who has 
never begun or ended. Understand this. Things follow 


him while he does not follow anything, because all 
things are created by God.^ 

Al-Sahlagi tells us that in the beginning Abu 
Yazld used to doubt the validity of his own miracles 
until God removed this doubt by causing to appear before 
him a patch of yellow light in which was written in 
green light, "There is no god but God; Muhammad is the 
Prophet of God; Abraham is the friend ( khalil) of God, 
Moses is the speaker (kalim) of God; Jesus is the 
spirit ( rub ) of God." 1 2 

In any case, Abu Yazld did not attach much 
importance to the power of miracles. On being told by 
someone that he was gifted with the power to fly in the 
air and walk on water, Abu Yazld remarked, "Y/hat is so 
special about this? Some of God’s creatures of no signi- 
ficance ( qimah ) can walk on water — and these are cro- 
codiles, and can fly in the air — and these are birds ."3 
On another occasion, he told his disciples, 

1 Nur, p. 75. 

Cf. also Tadhkirat, I, p. 152. 

2 Nur, p. 112. 

^Ibid., p. 121. Var. ibid., p. 136; Silyah, pp. 35 
and 391 

Cf. also Nur , pp. 124 and 125; Tadhkirat , I, 152. 


If you see a man who has been given miracles so 
that he can fly in the air, do not be deceived by 
him until you consider how you find him (behaving) 
in respect of (God's) commands and prohibitions 
( al-amr wa al-nahiyy ^of keeping within limits and 
of the fulfilment of the Shari 1 * * 4 5 ah .^ 

According to Abu Yazld, a man's travelling from the 
East to the West in an hour is nothing extraordinary. 

The real §ufi can travel in all the heavens and the 
earth "because all that is other than God is under his 


feet; he can pass with his feet wherever he wants." 

From Abu Yazld' s point of view, the miracles 
given to saints ( awliya * )^ are quite insignificant when 
compared with those of a prophet. In his characteristic 

ll _ T 

manner of exaggeration, Abu Yazid remarked that all 
the miracles of the saints were as one tiny drop of 
honey while the miracles of but one prophet were as a 
bucket ( ziqq )^ filled with honey from which the one 

1 Supra , pp . 27-29 . 

^Nur, p. 125. 

^ Infra, pp. 261-264. 

4 — 

By this we are referring to the extremism of Abu 

Yazld' s thoughts and deeds. There existed in Abu Yazld a 
tendency to carry things to extremes. Many examples of 
this tendency are apparent in our work. 


^ Ziqq means any container. But since he is talking 
of honey, we can take this in the sense of a bucket. 


drop had been taken! This interesting comparison was 
used extensively by later §ufls, and it may well be 
that Abu Yazid is to be credited with being the first 
to use it. 

24. His last Days and Death 
During the last part of his life Abu Yazid be- 


came very thin and weak. Al-Sahlagi tells us that during 

this time nothing was left of him except skin and 

bones. His condition was perhaps a combined result of 
his rigorous ascetic practices and of old age. It 
seems, nevertheless, that he was able to fulfil his 
religious obligations until the last moment of his life. 
Abu Musa came, as usual, to inform him of the time of 
the morning prayer. He knocked at the door of Abu Yazld's 
cell four times, but there was no response from inside. 

^Risalah, p. 175 • 

We^are accepting this tradition as referring to 
Abu Yazid' s attitude to miracles on the authority of al- 
Qushayrl. The text says ma l^agala , i.e., what was 
realised for §ufis.AL-Qushajri understands this to mean 
what was realized for Piiem in respect of miracles and 
thus he discusses this in the chapter on miracles. 

2 Nur, p. 125. 

^ Supra . p . 107. 


Then he shouted saying, "Oh Abu Yazid l" Out of respect 
for his master, he had never called him by name 
before. When there was no response to this unusual 
address, he opened the door and discovered that Abu 
Yazid was no more.^ 

Although he did not reveal it to any one, Abu 
Yazid is believed to have been aware of his approach- 
ing death. His disciple, ‘Abd Allah Yunabadi, came 
from a village near Bis-fcam to visit Abu Yazid. Probably 
the day before he died, Abu Yazid asked the disciple 
not to leave for home until he had performed a funeral 
prayer. ‘Abd Allah obeyed the master's order without 
any further question. The next morning when Abu 

Yazid' s funeral prayer took place, he realized that 


Abu Yazid had his own funeral prayer in mind . 

As one would expect, a large number of people 
came from far and wide to attend the funeral of 
Abu Yazid. ^ 

^Nur , p . 50 

2 Ibid. 

^Tadhkir at , I, 178 . 


25. People's Dreams of Abu Yazld after his Death 

A number of people dreamt of Abu Yazid after 
his death. One of Abu Yazid's disciples, for example, 
asked him in a dream how he went through the questioning 
of Munkar and Nakir • Abu Yazid answered that when they 
asked him questions, he urged them to go back to God 
and enquire from Him what he was to Him; for, whatever 
he would say about his acts of worship would be of no 
use unless God considered him as one of His servants.^ 
Another man dreamt that God, face to face with Abu 
Yazld, asked him what he had brought for Him. In reply, 
Abu Yazid said that although he did not bring anything 
worthy of His honour, he did not bring polytheism 
( shirk ) . God said, "Not even the night of milk!" Abu 
Yazid then explained to the dreamer that one night he 
was afflicted with stomach-trouble which he had attri- 
buted to some milk which he had drunk earlier. This was: 
polytheism because he attributed power and strength to 
something other than God.^ Abu Musa is also believed to 
have dreamt about Abu Yazid. On the night of Abu Yazid's 

■^The two angels who are believed to visit the dead 
man in the grave, on the night after his burial, and to 
question him as to his faith. 

^ Tadhkirat , I, 178. 

5 Ibid. 


death, he dreamt that he was carrying the Throne (‘arsh) 
on his head. The next morning he actually carried the 
coffin of Abu Yazid. The following night, Abu Yazid 
appeared to him in a dream and said that the Throne of 
his dream the previous night represented the coffin 
which he carried the next morning.^ 

26. His Tomb 

Abu Yazid' s tomb still exists in Bis'fcSm. It 


became and still is a place of pilgrimage for many. 
People go there to get spiritual benefit from the dead 
§ufl. Among the distinguished visitors to Abu Yazid' s 
grave were Abu Sa‘id b. Abl al-Khayr,^ Abu al-^asan 

1 Tadhkirat, I, 177-178. 

For other dreams, see ibid., pp. 178-179: Nur, 

PP. 73-74. 

2 Mir’at , p. 171. 

7 _ _ 

"ibn Munawwar, Asrar , pp. 150-151; Tadhkirat , I, 178. 

When he came near the grave, he stood on a small 
sand hill from which the grave could be seen, bowed his 
head for a while in respect for Abu Yazid and then said, 
pointing to the grave, "If anyone has lost a thing, he 
can find it there. "Then he came to the edge of the grave, 
again bowed his head in humility and said "This is a 
place for the pure and not for the impure" (Ibn Munawwar, 
Asrar , p. 151* Var. Tadhkirat , I, 179) • 


KharaqanI (d. 425/1033)) 1 Fa-fclmah 2 who was the wife of 

_ T T _ X 

Aljmad b. Kha<J.ruyah, al-Sarraj, al-Hujwxn and Yaqut. 

There are two memorial tombs of Abu Yazid — 


one at Bahadaliyyah near Damascus and the other at 


Chittagong in East Pakistan. 

^■Before his death he ordered his disciples to dig 
his grave thirty yards deep because the location of his 
grave was to be at a place which had a higher elevation 
than the location of the grave of Abu Yazid, and he 
wanted to be buried at a level lower than that of Abu 
Yazid out of respect for him (Tadhkirat, II, 254). 

2 Tadhkirat . I, 178. 

^ Supra , pp.10, 19, 15 etc. 

Al-Hujwlrl stayed near Abu Yazid' s tomb for three 
months engaging himself in devotional exercises with a 
view to finding the solution of some problem he was 
facing at that time (Kashf, p. 77) • 

^Essai, p. 274. 

^The author of this dissertation has visited the 
tomb in Chittagong twice. It_is located on the top of a 
hill in the village of Ha^Irabad which is about five 
miles north of the city of Chittagong. Attached to the 
tomb is a big pond with unusually large turtles. Hundreds 
of people visit the tomb everyday and feed the turtles. 
According to popular belief, Abu Yazid, known to the 
Bengalees as Bayzld Bostaml, actually died at Na§Irabad 
and was buried there. The popular explanation of the 
presence of the turtles is that Abu Yazid turned the 
evil .jinn s into turtles in order to protect the people 
from evil inspiration. 

Incidentally, there are two other well-knwon §ufl 
shrines (aside from hundreds of small ones ) in 
East Pakistan — one in the district of Sylhet and the 
other in the district of Khulna. Each of these has a 
pond and a miracle associated with it. The pond of 
the shrine at Sylhat, which the author has 


visited once, is filled with fish of an unusually 
large size. They float on the surface of the water 
most of the time in expectation of food from the visi- 
tors, although this species of fish usually does not 
float on the surface for any length of time. The pond 
attached to the shrine at Khulna has crocodiles which, 
when called by their names, come to the bank to eat 
chicken, mutton etc. offered by the visitors. 


Chapter III 


A general remark needs to be made before we 
embark upon a discussion of Abu Yazld's mystical 
doctrines. Abu Yazld belonged to an early period in the 
history of §uflsm. The key §ufl terms such as zuhd , 
f ana * , tawbld etc . did not crystalize themselves during 
this time; they were still in their formative stage of 
development. Hence, in introducing the meaning of these 
terms, we shall quote from Abu Yazld as well as from 
other §ufls and §ufl authors to add content to their 
meaning. A discussion of how Abu Yazld's understanding 
of some of these terms relates to the meaning which 
other §ufls have attached to them will be reserved for 
the concluding chapter. 

1. Meaning of Zuhd 

The term zuhd , derived from the Arabic root zh d, 
means asceticism, abstinence or renunciation. According 
to §asan al-Ba§r! (d. 110/728), zuhd consists in the 



renunciation of the world and all that is in it, 1 2 * 4 The 

world, says he, is like a snake which, although smooth 


to touch, has deadly venom; whenever man 

feels secure in any pleasure thereof, the world 
drives him over into some unpleasantness, and 
whenever he attains any part of it and squats him 
down upon it, the world suddenly turns him upside 
down,,., its hopes are lies, its expectations false; 
its easefulness is all harshness, muddied its 

In fact, God, according to Abu Yazld, has created Iblls 
as a dog and the things of the world as a dead body. 

"Then He placed Iblis at the end of the road of the world 
and at the beginning of the road of the hereafter, and 
said to him, 'I shall make you dominate over all those 
who incline towards the dead body.' 1,4 Because of this 
evil nature of the world, §ufxs regard the world as the 
root of sins, and the renunciation of it as the source 
of goodness and obedience,^ The very first step of 

1 Risalah, p. 61, 

2 Hilyah , II, 135 . 

^Ibid. , pp. 135-136; trans. A.J. Arberry, Sufism : 
an Account of the Mystics of Islam (London: George 
Alien and Unwin Ltd., 1963.), PP« 33-34 . 

4 Mir’at . p. 169. 

^Luma* , p. 46. 


spiritual progress, therefore, consists in "freeing 
the hands of possessions and the hearts of acquisitive- 


ness." The symbolical meaning attached to the term 
* zuhd* ’ by Abu Bakr Muhammad al-Warraq (d. 290/903) makes 
its implications clear. " Zuhd ". says he, "consists of 
three letters: _z, h and d. Z stands for the renunciation 
of honour, fame etc. ( tark-e - zinat ) . h for the renuncia- 
tion of passions ( tark-e hawa) and d for the renunciation 
of the world ( tark-e dunya ) . That is, zuhd consists 
in the renunciation of all vices such as lust, pride, 
envy, anger, hatred, avarice, the desire for worldly 
wealth, honour and domination. The term by which §ufls 

^bid . 

One can perhaps object to this, saying, that we 
cannot call this the first step because one is required 
to observe all the religious obligations of a Muslim 
before one_can start on the §ufl path ( tarlqah ) . But, 
from the §ufi point of view, it is assumed that a 
novice, who is ready to launch his journey on the §ufl 
path, is already a Muslim observing the instructions 
of Shari* ah . Hence, in the case of zuhd , for example, 
it is not renunciation of what Shari* ah has declared 
forbidden and doubtful; for, it is taken for granted 
that this novice has already been doing this; zuhd is 
renunciation of what is permissible ( ibid .) ♦ 


Al-Junayd ( Ta*arruf , p. 93) • 

^Tadhkirat, II, 106. 


designate the source of all these vices is naf s . the 
Self. 1 

i) The Self 

According to the classical §ufl theory, the Self 
is the seat of the Devil (Satan). The attributes of the 
Self are such that it always leads one to falsehood 


( batil ) and deceit. It imprisons man in the snares of 
what is transitory and thus distracts him from the 
everlasting God. Abu Yazld held basically the same view; 
the Self, according to him, is impure and thus the 
source of all evil. In fact, he considered the Self 
more impure than a menstruating woman Eence he used 
to address his own Self in this way: 

Oh the refuge ( ma’wa) of evil I Once a woman 
menstruates, she becomes pure after three days or 
at most ten. But you, my Self! You have been sitting 
for some twenty to thirty years and yet have not 

For the sake of convenience, we are rendering naf s 
as the Self, although it should be more precisely 
translated as the lower Self (or soul) as against the 
higher soul ( rub ) ♦ 

Because the Self is considered the source of desires, 
passions, etc., it is often considered identical with 
human attributes ( bashariyyah ) as opposed to the Divine. 
Sometimes it is also used as synonymous with the world 
(dunya) because of its concern for the world. But seman- 
tically, the Self is the driving force behind the desire 
for the world, while the world is the object of this desire. 

^Kashf, p. 251; Tadhkirat , I, 166. 

^According to Shari ‘ ah , a woman is impure during the 


been purified. When shall you be purified? Standing 
in front of the Pure requires one to be pure.^" 

On another occasion, again comparing the Self with 
menstruating women, he said, "Women are in a better 
condition than we. They become pure once a month or 
perhaps twice; for they purify themselves from menstrua- 
tion by ritual bath. But we can almost never become pure 
in our life except once." Perhaps the reference here 
is to the ritual bath given to the dead bodies of Muslims 
before burial. 

In Abu Yazld's thinking, the Self has a broad 
implication. By the Self, he referred not only to the 
passions and desires relating to this world but also to 
the desires, and even mere consciousness, relating to 
anything other than God. This point will be made clear 

period of her menstruation and therefore is excused 
from religious obligations. 

■^Nur, p. 97* Var. Mir [ at , p. 161; Kawakib, p. 249. 

%ur, p. 66. Var. Tadhkirat , I, VPO and 171. 

It is said that whenever Abu Yazld arrived at the 
door of a mosque, he wept because he felt that he was 
impure like a menstruating woman and therefore he was 
ashamed of defiling the mosque by entering it 
( Tadhkirat , I, 159;. 


when we discuss Abu Yazid* s views on self -mortification. 

ii) The Self and the Heart 

If the Self is the refuge of evils, the heart 
C qalb ) is considered by §ufi.s as the organ of Divine 


knowledge. In fact, the heart is the very home of God. 
Because of their opposite nature, the weakness of the 
one results in the strength of the other and vice 
versa . Hence Abu Yazid said, "The contraction ( qabd ) 
of the heart is the expansion ( bast) of the Self, and 
the expansion of the heart is the contraction of the 
Self." 1 * * * 5 

iii) The Self and God 

The same opposition which exists between the 
Self and the heart exists between the Self and God. Hence, 
to please the one means to displease the other and 

1 It should be noted, however, that Abu Yazid was 

not consistent in his use of the terms qalb and nafs . 
Sometimes, he used nafs to mean the heart ( or soul ) 

( supra , p. 117 ). 

1 pp. 23-24; Risalah, p. 48. 

5 Tadhkirat, I, 166. Var. Kashf, p. 490. 

Abu Yazid said on another occasion, "Be a rider as 
to the heart and a pedestrian as to the Self" (Nur, p. ]£)]). 


vice versa * One cannot worship both God and Mammon. As 
Abu Yazld said, "I loved God; so I hated the world. I 
hated the world; so I loved God. I left the world until 
I reached God and I preferred the Creator over creatures 
until I came near ( anastu ) Him."'*’ He further said, 

"Seek His (God's) desire ( hawa) by opposing (khilaf) 
yours and His love by hating ( bughd) your Self; for. He 
is known by opposition to (one's) desire and loved by 
hating the Self." * 2 * * 5 Again, "Forgetting the Self is the 
remembrance of the Creator ( bar!) of the Self and 
"Whoever gives up passions ( hawa) reaches God."^ 

iv) The Self, the Heart and God 

It seems that according to Abu Yazld' s teachings, 
the "1"^ of man is constituted of the Self and the heart . 

^Nur, p. 85. 

2 Ibid., p. 101. 

Cf. other related sayings of Abu Yazld in ibid., 

pp. 119, 142 and 145. 

5 Ibid., pp. 81 and 154; Hilyah, X, 57. Var. Tadhkirat, 
I, 158 and 167; Tabaqat (An§ari), p. 91. 

^Tadhkirat . I, 165. 

^By the "I", we refer to the whole psychological 
make-up of man, and not to "Ir-ness" ( ananiyyah j by 
which Abu Yazld designated the Self ( infra , p. 170) . 


As for the relationship of the Self and the heart, we 
have seen that they are opposed to each other: the Self 
is the source of all evils and the heart of all good- 
ness. We have also seen that the same opposition which 

exists between the Self and the heart exists between 
the Self and God. Now the question arises: How is the 
heart related to God? Later §ufls, al-Ghazzall, for 
example, have discussed this problem in detail} 1 but 
we do not know of any statement by Abu Yazld on this 
question. On the basis of his idea of the common opposi- 
tion of both the heart and God to the Self, we may 
presume that, according to him, the heart is akin to 
God, or even, perhaps, that the heart, which is the 
real thing in man, is a part of God. For lack of evi- 
dence, however, we cannot make any definite statement 
in this regard. 

Abu Yazid also spoke of the sirr^ (the secret 
part). Here again, for lack of evidence, we cannot say 

^Al-Ghazzall A Mishkat al -Anwar , ed. Abu al-‘ Ala 
Afifi (Cairo: Dar ai-Qawmiyyah li-Tiba‘ ah wa al-Nashir, 
1964), pp. 76-90; Al-Ghazzall, Kimiya al-Sa* adah . trans. 
from the Turkish by H.A. Homes, The Alchemy of Happiness 
(Albeny: N.Y. : J. Munsell, 1873)7 PP* 15 ,17, T8, 19, 

23 etc.; M. Smith, Al-Ghazzali. the Mystic (London: 

Luzac & Co., 1944) ,"pp.' 141-146. — 


Infra, pp . 144 , n. 3; 159» 

n. 1. 

what exactly he meant by the secret part. From the con- 
texts in which he used it, it seems that he took the 
heart and the secret part to mean one and the same thing* 

2. Mortification of the Self 

Because of its evil and impure nature, the Self 
constitutes a veil before the heart. To use an imagt 
introduced to §uflsm at a later period of history, the 
heart, when polluted by the dirt and filth of the Self, 
is like a rusty mirror. For a clear reflection of the 
Divine Face on the mirror of the heart , therefore , the 
rust must be polished off. Unless this is done, one*s 
prayer and fasting, however much one may perform these, 
will be of no avail . 1 Abu Yazld said to a man of Bis$am, 
"Even if you^ fast for three hundred years and keep 
standing (in prayer) for three hundred years while you 
are (in the state in which) X see you, you will not 
experience one atom of that knowledge ( l ilm).... Because 
you are veiled by your (own) Self..."*^ According to 

1 Tadhkirat, I, 146. 

^The interesting question here is to know who or 
what is the "you" that is veiled by the Self. Probably 
Abu Yazld meant by "you" the real "you", the heart of 
the man. 

^Infra, p . 139 . 


Abu Yazld the true worshipper is he who "cuts off the 
heads of all wishes with the sword of zuhd and all his 
desires become annihilated in the love of God." 1 * * 4 He 
said to his disciples, "Separate your heart from preten- 
sion, possession, ornamentation and deliberation 
(tadbir) until, having been freed from everything other 
than God, you see your heart above the kingdom between 


the lights of His Throne." The process of polishing 
the Self is known as self-mortification ( mujahadah ) 

Abu Yazld' s statement that one should separate 
his heart from deliberation ( tadbir 1 ) is interesting. As 
we shall see later, Abu Yazld also spoke of mortifica- 


tion of actions. These statements may be interpreted 
to mean that by self -mortification he was referring to 
a state of mindlessness. We would say that, according 
to Abu Yazld' s teachings, the state of selflessness, in 
which the §ufl loses all initiative and volition, is ttie 
result of the process of self -mortification rather than 
the process itself. We shall discuss the result of the 

1 Tadhkirat , I, 161. 

^Nur, p. 101. 

Cf. also ibid . 


•'This is derived from the Arabic root h d. In the 
verbjform I, it means to strive or to struggTeT The word 
' .jihad * (holy war) is derived from the same root. 

4 Infra . pp . 167 and 168. 


process of self -mortification in the next chapter. For 
the time being, by self -mortification Abu Yazid meant 
the process by means of which one strips the heart of 
everything other than God. 

To achieve self-mortification is indeed a very 
difficult task. "People think," said Abu Yazid, "that 
the way to God, may He be exalted, is wider and clearer 
than the sun, but I ask Him to open to me a way to Him 
which is in measure like that of the point of a needle"^ 
He said again, "I dealt with everything, but I did not 
find anything more difficult to deal with than my (own) 
Self ." 1 2 Further, "To carry the burden of the Truth 
( haqq) is a difficult task. This is possible only for 
special burden bearers^ who have been humiliated by 

1 Nur» P« 144. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 155; Kawakib, p. 249. 

2 Bilyah , X, 36 

On another occasion Abu Yazid said, "I practised self- 
mortification for thirty years, but I did not find any- 
thing harder on me than knowledge (‘ilm) and its pursuit' 
(Risalah, p. 15; Kashf, pp. 20-21 and' 152-155; Mir at , 
p. l64 ; Bilyah, X, 35; Tabaqat [SulamI] , p. 63). For an_ 
interpretation of this saying, see Kashf . pp. 21 and 132. 
Abu Yazid also said, "I supervised the heart for forty 
years. After forty (years) I found infidelity in it. Its 
infidelity consisted in paying attention to things other 
than Him" (Nur, p. 94. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 141). For 
another similar saying, see Nur , p. 1 O 7 . 

^Perhaps the reference is to the Qur’anic verse, 
"Indeed, we offered the trust (amanah) to the Heavens 
and the earth and the mountains. But they refused to 
bear it because they were afraid of it (i.e., of its 


self -mortification and have achieved vision (mushahadah) 
as a result of self-discipline ( riyadah ) ♦ " 1 Hence, from 
the beginning of his mystical life, Abu Yazid devoted 
himself to the acts of self-mortification.^ 

We can speak of two levels of self-mortification 
according to Abu Yazid. At a lower level, it refers to 
mortification of the Self in its relationship to this 
world, and, at a higher level, it implies mortification 
of the Self in its relationship to the hereafter, to 
the gifts granted by God to the §ufl, and even to love 
of God, ma 4 rifah ; abstinence. etc. 

i) Mortification at a Lower Level 

How can self -mortification be achieved at a 
lower level? First, one needs to be aware of the defects 
of one's own Self. After this realization has been 
achieved, one should punish the Self sever61y. Asked 
when a man reaches the stage of maturity in §ufl life, 

burden) while man has borne it... (23:72). §ufis usually 
take amanah to mean ma 4 rifah or walayah. Here, by amnnah 
Abu Yazid seems_to mean God Himself .This is another 
example of Bis^ami exaggeration. 

^ Tadhkirat . I, 164. Var. Kawakib, p. 247. 

%ashf, p. 132. 


Abu Yazid replied, "When he knows the defects of his Self & his 
energies ( himmah ) have overcome it."^ As a means of 
punishing the Self, he suggested that one should do the 
opposite of what it desires. According to one story, 
for example, on a very cold night Abu Yazid had a 
nocturnal ejaculation which makes the ritual bath 
obligatory for a Muslim. When he woke up, he felt in- 
clined to postpone his bath until the sun-rise because 
the water was very cold. But at once he realized the 
sluggishness of the Self. To punish the Self, therefore, 
he melted the ice, took a bath in the ice-cold water 

and remained in wet clothes until he fainted and fell 

on the ground. 

a) Mortification of Pride, Desire for Honour, 
etc.: From the §ufi point of view, pride and desire for 
honour are among the worst desires of the Self. For the 
mortification of these, the Self needs to be treated 
very harshly. This is clearly exemplified in the follow- 
ing tradition: 

There was a man in Bis^am who was always in Abu 

Yazid' s assembly ( ma.ilis ) and he never separated 

1 Nur, p. 145. Var. Hilyah . p. 37. 

^Tadhkirat , I, 144. 

Fainting and falling on the ground in this case 
seem to be an exaggeration. 


from him* Once he said to Abu Yazld, "Oh master* 

For thirty days I have been fasting in the day- 
time and remaining in a standing position (in 
prayer) at night* I have left (all my) passions 
( shahawat ) • But I feel in my heart nothing at all 
of what you are talking about, although I believe 
in what you say and I know that you are telling the 
truth." Then Abu Yazld said, "Even if you fast for 
three hundred years and keep standing (in prayer) 
for three hundred years while you are (in the state 
in which) I see you, you will not experience one 
atom of that knowledge ( * ilm) . 11 The man asked, 

"Why, oh master?" Abu Yazld answered, "Because you 
are veiled by your (own) Self." He asked, "Is there 
any medicine which could remove this veil?"... Abu 
Yazld said, "Go to the barber ( ha.i.iam ) at this very 
moment, get your head and beard shaven, take off Idle 
dress (you are wearing), put on this cloak, attach 
a bag (mikhlah) to your neck, fill it with nuts, 
gather children around you and say at the height of 
your voice, 'Oh children! V/hosoever will give me 
one slap, I shall give him a nut.' (Then) enter 
your market place in which you are respected and 
let everyone who knows you see you in this condi- 
tion. ..." The man said, "Oh Abu Yazld! I cannot 
and shall not do this. But show me something else 
and I shall do it." Abu Yazld replied, "Begin with 
this before all (else) so that (first) you fall 
from your prestige ( ,jah) and make yourself humi- 
liated. After this I shall let you know what will be 
suitable for you." The man said, "I am unable to do 


this. . • 



Another means of mortifying pride and the 
desire for dignity, etc. is blame ( malamatO . This con- 
sists in doing something which, apparently at least, 
contradicts the rules of the Shari* ah in order to invite 
blame, insult and rejection from the people; fo^ these 


work as a shield against pride. When Abu Yazld, on his 
way back from §ijaz, was entering Rayy, many people of 
the town came out to show honour to him. This act on 
the part of the people created in him a sense of pride 
and thus distracted him from God. In order to avoid 
such a development, he drew a loaf of bread out of his 

^Nur, pp. 86-87. Var. Tadhkirat, I, 146; Kawakib, 
p. 2517“ 

According to one story, once, while on Mount *Ara£St, 
Abu Yazld' s Self felt proud of his acts of piety. To 
mortify this sense of pride, he bought a piece of bread 
for the price of forty-five of his pilgrimages and threw 
it to a dog which ate it ( Qissat Abi Yazld . p. 173) • 


Another purpose of the pretended contempt of Sharl*a h 
is to conceal one's piety. 

In the third/ninth century, there arose in Khurasan 
a group of §ufls known as the Malamatiyyah. They were 
noted for their deliberate indifference to Shari* ah as 
a means of inviting blame from the people. Abu $af s al- 
Qaddld who was an important Malamati §ufl, met Abu Yazld 
at Bis^am. 

On the Malamatiyyah, see al-Sulaml, Risalah : Kashf, 
pp. 68-78; M.S. Seale, "The Ethics of Malamatiyyah 
Sufism and the Sermon on the Mount", Muslim World 
(1968), pp. 12-25. 


sleeves and ate it, although it was the month of Ramadan 
at that time. As soon as the people saw this, they left 

b) Mortification of the Desires Arising out of 
Physical Needs: Abu Yazid laid a great emphasis on the 
mortification of the desires arising out of physical 
needs. There is, on the part of the body, a desire for 
comfort and rest. To achieve the mortification of this 
desire, Abu Yazid seldom allowed himself to lean against 
a wall. He said, "For forty years I never leaned 
against a wall except on that of a mosque or of a cell 
( rib at ) . " When asked why he refrained from doing this 
although it is legally permissible, Abu Yazid replied, 

"I heard God saying, 'Whoever does good of the measure 
of an atom will see (i.e., be rewarded by) it, and 
whoever does evil of the measure of an atom will see 
(Le., be punished for) it.' 1 2 Then do you see any 

1 Kashf, p. 72. Var. Tadhkirat, I, 138. 

According to another tradition, once when he saw, 
while coming out of a city, that many people were 
following him, Abu Yazid performed the dawn prayer and 
turned to them, saying, "There is no god but I; so wor- 
ship me'." The people thought that Abu Yazxd had gone 
mad and thus they left him (Nur, p. 122). 

2 Qur’an, 99*8. 





Another desire arising out of bodily needs is 
the desire for food and drink. Prom Abu Yazld' s point 
of view, mortification of this desire is of utmost 
importance. Hence we hear him saying, "For forty years 


I did not eat what human beings eat." We are also told 
that he never ate anything during the daytime except 
during the two big festivals of the year.^ Once a man 
wanted to become his disciple. At first Abu Yazld 
refused permission to him with the remark, "You will 
not be able to bear it." But at the insistence of the 
man, Abu Yazld granted him permission. For two days, 
the novice did not get anything to eat. On the second 

^Nur, p. 117 .Var. Tadhkirat . I, 141; Luma * . p. 395* 

^Nur, p. 98; Tadhkirat . I, 141. 

Perhaps Abu Yazid meant to say that he did not eat 
luxurious food for forty years. 

Stories about Abu Yazld' s rigorous asceticism are 
numerous. One night in the beginning of his mystical life 
he did not experience the joy of obedience. On enquiry, 
when he found that there was a spoon-full of grapes in 
the house, he said to his disciples, "Give it to someone. 
The house has become a grocer's shop" (Nur, p. 70. Var. 
Tadhkirat . I, 149: _Kawakib . p. 244). According to another 
tradition, Abu Yazid was refused permission to enter the 
court of God because he had in his house a broken pot 
and a ripped shirt ( Tadhkirat . I, 157) • 

^Luma * , p . 395 • 


day when he asked for food, Abu Yazid replied, "Oh 
young man! Our food is God." The man said, "Oh master! 
What is necessary is necessary (i.e., there is no 
escape from food)." Then Abu Yazld said, "God is neces- 
sary." The man said, "Oh master! I want something to 
sustain my body for the service of God." Abu Yazid 
replied, "Oh young man! (Our) bodies do not subsist ex- 
cept by God."^ On another occasion, Abu Yazld said, "I 
called my Self to obedience, but it refused. So I did 


not give it a drink of water for one year." 

As a corollary to his emphasis on the necessity 
of the mortification of the desire for food and drink, 
Abu Yazid placed a high value on hunger. He said, 
"Hunger is (like) clouds. When a man is hungry, his 

^Nur, p. 85 • 

^ Mir’at , p. 167; Risalah . p. 15» Var. Tadhkirat . I, 
156; Kawakib , p. 24? and 250; Nur, pp. 98-99. 

Once in the beginning of his mystical life, Abu 
Yazid travelled a long distance to see a man. When he 
saw the man fat, he became repentant for having taken 
the trouble of going there. Having_perceived this in Abu 
Yazid' s mind, the man said, "Oh Abu Yazid! Do not spoil 
your travelling seven thousand farsakh [farsakh is per- 
haps equal to three miles (see E.W. Lane, Arabic-Enelish 
Lexicon L London: Williams & Norgate, 1874], I:5» 2369). 
Obviously, in this case, we should not take the figure 
literally! to me. My fatness is due to my happiness with 
God" (Nur$ pp. 146-147). 


heart sends down the rain of wisdom. Once asked why 

he valued hunger so highly, he replied, "If Fir 4 awn 

were hungry for a day, he would not have said, *1 am 


your Lord, the exalted.'" on another occasion when he 
was asked how he had achieved what he had achieved 
(i.e., the mystical aim), he answered, "By a hungry 
stomach and a naked body . "^ Al— Sahlagi tells Us that 

1 Nur, p. 156; Bilyah . X, 59. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 167; 
KawakTET p. 247. 

^Nur, p. 136; Bilyah , X, 39* Var. Kashf, p. 453; 
Tadhkirat, I, 169. 

^Nur , p. 118 ; Mir 1 at . p. 166; Risalah , p. 14. 

Of. also the following reply of Abu Yazid received 
by someone in - a dream when he asked, "What is §ufism?" : 
"Tying ropes tight (on the waist, which is the symbol of 
hunger) and opposing the (desires of the) body*" ( Bur , 
p. 64). 

It is obvious from many of Abu Yazid' s sayings that 
sometimes §ufis go through immense physical pains and 
sufferings. One wonders how it is possible for them to 
bear these. The answer is that they are lovers of God and 
they can bear anything for the sake of their love. They 
have, moreover, a complete trust (tawakkul) in what 
the Beloved does for them and thus accept everything 
as a gift from Bim. When asked from what source he 
received food, Abu Yazid replied that if God feeds dogs 
and pigs, He could also feed Abu Yazid ( Kawakib, p. 246). 
When someone described to him the state of tawakkul as 
that state in which one's secret part ( sirr ) does not 
move even though all lions and all snakes were on one's 
right and left hands, Abu Yazid said, "Yes! This is 
almost right. But if the people of Paradise are enjoying 
themselves in Paradise and if the people of Hell are 
being tortured in Hell, and you are able to distinguish 
between the two, you will come out of the state of tawakkul . 
completely" ( Nur . pp. 107-108. Var. Risalah, p. 83) • In 
real tawakkul . said Abu Yazid, man considers no one as 
his helper other than God, no one as 


Abu Yazld "never kept anything for tomorrow. 

As for the mortification of sexual desire, 

Abu Yazld could not be so emphatic as he was with re- 
gard to other physical desires. He wished to be free 
from the burden ( mu’nat ) of women, but at once he 
realized that it was not proper for him to do so be- 
cause the Prophet did not ask it for himself. 2 Never- 
theless, Abu Yazld' s attitude to women was such that 
women and walls appeared the same to him.^ 

0) Mortification of the Entire Self: The morti- 
fication of only one aspect of the Self or another does 
not help achieve the goal. The entire Self needs to be 
mortified, and, in fact, God Himself has commanded man 
to do this. Abu Yazid said to Abu Musa, "Oh Abu Mus&l A 
(real) believer is without Self." Then he recited the 

the provider of his livelihood except Him and no one as 
the witness of his actions except Him (Nur, p. 144; 
Kawakib « p. 249). 

^Nur, p. 68. 

The real servant, according to Abu Yazld, does not 
leave behind in this world anything except his Lord 
( Kawakib . p. 248). Hence we are told that Abu Yazld on 

his death left behind only the shirt that he was wearing 
and. even this shirt was loaned to him by someone. 

2 Risalah , p. 15; Tadhkirat . I, 153 • 

^Tadhkirat . I, 153* 


Qur’anic verse: "Indeed, God has bought from His be- 
lievers their Selves" 1 and added, "How can one who has 
(already) sold his Self (still) have it?" 2 

Abu Yazld compared the Self to a store-house 
( kundu.i ) • A store-house contains various things ; if we 
remove a few things from it, many other things will 
still remain there • The same is the case with the Self 
which houses many desires. Hence he advised his follow- 
ers to mortify the entire Self. He said, "Empty the 
store-house! Empty the store-house! Indeed, when you 
empty the store-house, you will not have to covet seven- 
ty others."'* 

When Abu Yazld asked God in a dream "What is 
the way to You?", God is said to have replied, "Leave 

Qur’an, 9:111. 

2 Nur, p. 84. 

5 Ibid., p. 91. 

Although apparently Abu Yazld referred by seventy 
store-houses to other seats of desires than the Self, 
actually he meant by these store-houses the desires of 
the Self. Seventy desires constitute seventy veils. If 
all these are emptied, no more veils would remain to 
be pierced. 

Number seventy is significant. Abu Yazld also 
spoke of seventy Magian girdles, seventy maqanu etc. 


your Self and come."’*’ Abu Yazld followed God's command 
rigorously and thus renounced the Self completely. He 
said, "I collected all worldly things (asbab), tied 
them with the rope of contentment, put them in the 
catapult ( man.ianlq) of sincerity ( side) , threw them 
in the ocean of despair ( ivas ) and (only) then did I 
rest."^ Again, he said, "I called my Self to God, but 
it disobeyed me. So, I left it and went (alone) to Him."^ 

He gave up all that creatures have and concentrated 

A R 

on what is God's. Thus he reached God "with nothing’.. 

One can reach God "by dumbness, deafness and 

^Nur, p. 96. Var. Risalah, p. 194 and 55; Mir* at , 
p. 162: Nafahat , g. 57: Tadhkirat , I, 171; Tabaqat al- 
Kubra, p. 61; Kawakib , p. 250. 

According to another tradition, God told Abu Yazld 
that the best way to come near Him is to come with 
something which He does not have. Asked what it was, God 
said, "Oh Abu Yazidl I have no want ( faqah) and poverty 
( f aqr ) . Whoever wants My nearness through these, I bring 
him close to My carpet" (Nur, p. 127). 

^Ibid . , p. 67 • Var. Risalah , p. 82; Tadhkirat , I, 
168; Kawakib , p. 251. 

%ilyah, X, 36; Mir* at, p. 165. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 


4 _ 

Nur , p. 67* 

5 Ibid. 


blindness" 1 to all other than God. 

The completeness and irrevocability of Abu 
Y&zid s renunciation of the world) which is here 
another name for the Self, is best expressed in his 
utterance of the Muslim formula of divorce to the world 
three times. 2 He said, 

I uttered the triple formula of divorce once for 
all, never again to return to it, and went to my 
Lord alone. Then I called for His help saying, "Oh 
my Godi I pray to You the prayer of the one for 
whom nothing remains except You." When He knew the 
sincerity of the prayer of my heart ( aalb ). the 
first thing that came to me as a response to it was 
that He made me forget my Self ( nafs) completely 
and put all the creatures in my hands although I 

1 Ibid. 

The Qur’an applies deafness, dumbness and blindness 
^2:18) to the hypocrites. It is intersting to see how 
Abu Yazid applied this expression to the §ufls who are 
completely oblivious of the world. According to one 
story, Abu Yazid, on his way to Mecca, found a human 
skull on which was written the Qur’anic verse, "Deaf, 
dumb and blind, they will never understand" and remarked 
that it was the skull of a §ufi who was annihilated in 
God ( Tadhkirat . I, 137). 


According to Sharjah , a wife divorced by the 
triple formula is forbidden to her husband unless she 
is married to him again after having been married to 
some other man. 


refrained from them 


d) Devotion to the Service of God: Simultaneous- 
ly with the mortification of worldly desires, the novice 


is required to devote himself energetically to worship 
and other acts of piety. Hence Abu Yazid not only 
divorced the world^ but also occupied himself completely 
with service to God. He used to spend "his nights 

^Nur, p. 95. Var. ibid., pp. 67 and 99; Mir’at, 
p. 165T ~ Bilyah , X, 56:~ l^hkirat , I, 170 ; Kawakib , p.247. 

It is interesting to_notice that according to one 
traditon quoted by ^Afetar* Abu Yazld received an o.gdfr 
from God to utter the formula of divorce to his Self 
thrice ( Tadhkirat , I, 159). 

According to Abu Yazld. the Qur’anic expression, 

•Kjod is the first...." (57; 53 means that He unveils to 
the people "the conditions of the_world so that_they^ 
may not have any desire for it (Nur, p. 85). Abu Yazid 
also said that the sunnah of the Prophet means the 
abandonment of the world', while fard X obligatory duties 
to God) is companionship with God; for, sunnah refers to 
the world while the Qur’an insists on God's companion- 
ship ( Ibid ., p. 96). 

p — 

By this we mean supererogatory prayers ( nawafil) ; 
for, the compulsory prayers prescribed by Sharjah are 
obligatory on all Muslims. 

^ After this divorce, Abu Yazid said to himself, "If 
God is not sufficient for you, nothing in the heavens 
and earth will" ( Nur , p. 67). 


standing (in prayer), his days fasting and his heart 
remained insensible to things (perplexed, ha’im) ♦ t>1 He 
said, "I occupied my tongue with His remembrance ( dhikr) 
and my body with his service. Whenever one limb (of my 
body) got tired, I used another. Then I was called, 'Abu 

p _ _ 

Yazid 1 Abu Yazid'.'" Here God was addressing Abu Yazid 
as a result of his devotion to God. This seems to us to 
be a fulfilment of God's promise in the Qur’an, "You 
remember Me and I shall remember you. 

This is the kind of Islam Abu Yazid practised. 

No wonder, therefore, that when someone asked a Magian, 
who was perhaps Abu Yazid* s neighbour, to accept Islam, 
he refused with the remark: "If Islam is what Abu Yazid 
practises, I have no capacity for it; and if it is what 
you do, I have no desire for it." 

Summary: The above discussion shows that for a 
clear apprehension of the Reality, which is the §ufl 
goal, one is required to tear aside the veil of the Self. 

■'■Ibid., p. 46. 

^Ibid. , p. 67. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 170. 

Gf. also Nur, p. 68 for God's addressing him as, 
"Oh Abu Yazid l" - 

^Qur’an, 2: 152. 

^Tadhkirat, I, 149. Var. Nur . p. 95 . 


But this, as we have seen, is a very difficult task. 
There is no "instant” mortification of the Self. To 
achieve the objective, one is required to go through a 
long process of rigorous self-descipline accompanied by 
constant prayers and fasting. These ideas have been 
very well summed up in the following saying of Abu YazBL: 

I was the blacksmith of my Self for twelve years, 

the mirror of my heart for five years, and I looked 
at what is between the two for one year. Then I 

found a Magian girdle clearly visible around my 

waist. So I tried to cut it for twelve years. Then 

I looked and found a Magian girdle in my interior 

( batin) . I tried to cut this for five years . Look 

how I cut this! Then I looked at the creatures and 

saw them all dead. So, I pronounced over them the 

1 2 

formula of funeral prayer four times. 

^ Takbir ( Allah akbar ) . 

2 Risalah , p. 52. Var. Nur, p. 74; Mir* at , p. 166. 

Of. also the following tradition concerning Abu 
Yazid's mortification of the Self: 

... he fired the bow of the world by separating 
(him from it), cut the neck of desire with the rein 
of fear, bearded it with the whip of hope, clothed 
it with the shirt of patience and dressed it with 
the robe ( rida * ) of forbearance (tagabur)* Depriva- 
tion and gif xi, hardship and comfort C rakha ) , blame 
and praise ~ all have become equal to him. So, 
pretension has disappeared from his external as well 
as internal aspects. For him there is_no difference 
between daniq ( a small coin) and dinar ; for, he 
knows that if his daniq is blessed (by God), it will 
have greater value ( barakah ) than a dinar . He also 
knows that if a cat attacks him, it could be more 
harmful than a lion. This being the case, Paradise 
will say, "Oh God'. Let this man enter as one of 


‘Avar's record of this saying of Abu Yazid is 
interesting. It explains and elaborates on Abu Yazid' s 
saying at several points. This is how ‘A^tar quotes 
Abu Yazid: 

For twelve years, I was the blacksmith of my Self. 

I put it in the furnace of discipline ( riyadat ) , 
burnt it in the fire of self-mortification Gm.iahadat ), 
placed it on the anvil of reproach ( mudhammat ) , and 
struck it with the hammer of blame (malamat) until 
I made out of it (the Self) a mirror. For five years 
I was my own mirror. I polished it with different 
kinds of worship (‘ibadat) and piety ( ta* at ) . After 
that X gazed upon my own reflection for one year 
and saw around my waist a Magian girdle of deceit, 
of vanity, of pride and of dependence on obedience 
and approabation of my own work. X fought for five 
more years until that Magian girdle was cut and I 
became a Muslim anew. I looked and saw that the 
creatures were dead. I pronounced the formula of 
funeral prayer over them four times. I returned 
from the funeral of them all and without the intru- 
sion ( zabmat) of creatures, I reached God with His 
help . 1 

my inhabitants. Thus Paradise will seek him; he will not 
seek Paradise • When the Hell— fire will see him in the 
condition in which he is, it will realize that his light 
will extinguish its sparks. So A the Hell-fire will seek 
refuge with God from him... ( Nur , p. 105). 

1 Tadhkirat, I, 159* 

This account of Abu Yazid' s saying by ‘A'fc'fcar clearly 
illustrates what we have said about the nature of the 
material in Tadhkirat ( supra , p . 55) • 


A further word needs to be said about Abu 
Yazld's views on the renunciation of the world. As we 
have seen, he insisted on a total renunciation. He 
divorced the world thrice never to return to it and 
pronounced the formula of funeral prayer on the creatures. 
He considered the world so deceptive that he wished it 
were a morsel of food so that he could throw it to a 
dog’*' and thus save all mankind from its harm. What does 
Abu Yazld mean by all this? Does he mean to say that a 
§ufx should abandon this society of ours and live the 
life of a Hindu sanyasl in a cave of the Himalyas? 

To answer this question, we should bear in mind 
that the §ufl is a Muslim, and a Muslim, aside from 
what he owed to God, has duties to his family, to his 
relations, to his fellow-men and to the world at large. 

As a Muslim ~ and he claims to be a good Muslim — he 
is required to perform all these duties. Naturally, 
therefore, he cannot renounce the world in the sense of 
a complete withdrawal from it. Abu Yazxd did not do 
this either. We have seen that he ate food and, in fact, 


refused once to eat charred bread, wore dresses and 
shoe s , had a house and most probably a family, lived 


Nur, p. 79- 


Supra , p . p . 78. 

154 - 

in the community of men, had friends and associates, 
entertained guests, helped the needy, visited sick 
neighbours, and so on. The real meaning of renunciation 
is abstinence in thought and action from all that is 
abhorrent to and thus forbidden by God. An orthodox 
Muslim is also expected to abstain, both in thought and 
in action, from all that has been forbidden by God. In 
this respect, the §ufl goes much further than an ortho- 
dox Muslim; he takes from the world what is absolutely 
necessary and shuns what is not. The §ufl may be a 
general, a professor, a merchant — anything that is 
approved in the eyes of God as long as he is free from 
ambition, greed, pride etc. He is in the world, but not 
of it. Prom the §ufl point of view, this is the kind of 
asceticism that was practised by the Prophet. 

ii) Mortification at a Higher Level 

Thus far in the chapter we have discussed morti- 
fication of the Self in its relationship with the world. 
Up to this point, orthodox Muslims will, to a certain 
extent at least, go along with Abu Yazld because the 
Qur’an considers everything as perishable except the 
Pace of God, 1 and says that whosoever "restrains his 

Qur’an, 28:88. 


Self ( nafs) from passions, indeed Paradise shall be his 
abode."^ In addition, there are Traditions from which 
one can draw inspiration for a life of renunciation. 

For example, Muhammad is reported to have said, "May 
the dinar- worshipper perish, may the dirham- worshipper 
perish, may the stomach-worshipper perish, may the sex- 
worshipper perish, may the clothes-worshipper perish!"^ 

It is obvious, however, that a majority of §ufls 
will also agres with Abu Yazld up to this point. But Abu 
Yazid went much further than this. In the typical Bis-fcamI 
style of exaggeration, he insisted on a higher kind of 
mortification, — mortification of the hereafter 
(akhira)^ and of abstinence itself. 

a) Mortification of Desires Concerning the 
Hereafter ( akhirah) : According to Abu Yazld, this world 
and the next are both homes of the Devil (Iblls).^ Hence 
one is required to strip oneself not only of the desires 

1 Ibid. , 79 : 40-41 . 


Ta*arruf . p. 83. 

^From now on, the Self is taken to include not only 
the world, but also the hereafter and, in fact, anything 
other than God. 

4 Nur . p. 121. 


concerning the present world, but also of those con- 
cerning the next. He said, "I looked and saw the people 
enjoying food, drink and marriage in this world, (I saw 
them doing) the same in the next world. Then I made 
God's remembrance (dhikr) my enjoyment of the next 
world. He said again that "there is experience of joy 
neither in this world nor in the hereafter; joy is the 


joy of the Merciful." Love of God, according to him, 
"is that you do not make friendship either with this 
world or with the hereafter."^ Al-Eujwxrx informs us 
that whenever a thought of this world occurred to Abu 
Yazxd's mind, he performed ablution (taharat ) ; and when 
a thought of the next world occurred to his mind, he 
performed a ritual bath ( ghusl ) Al-Hujwxrl explains 
this by saying that 

this world is non-eternal ( muhdath ) * and the result 
of thinking of it is legal impurity ( hadath ) . 
whereas the next world is the place of absence and 
repose ( ghaybah u aram) and the result of thinking 
of it is pollution ( .janabat ) ; hence legal impurity 

^Mir* at , p. 166* 

^Nur, p. 129. 

5 Tadhkirat, I, 167- 
\ashf, p. 578. 


involves purification and pollution involves total 

We have seen previously how this world, from 
Mm Yazid* s point of view, is an evil. But how is the 
hereafter an evil? This may sound strange in view of 
the fact that Shari* ah prescribes acts of piety in this 
world for the attainment of pleasures in the next. But 
Abu Yazid did not want to worship God like a wage- 
earner in a factory; his goal was not to receive Paradise 
in exchange for his acts of worship; for, Paradise is 
nothing in comparison with the Owner of Paradise. So his 
aim was to meet the Owner of Paradise. The servants with 
who God is really pleased can never be interested in the 
palaces of Paradise. 2 In fact, Paradise constitutes a 
veil separating God if one remains pre-occupied with it, 
and veiling from God for the twinkling of an eye is the 
greatest of punishments. Hence Abu Yazid said, "There 
are servants of God who, if they were veiled from 
seeing God, would cry for a way out of Paradise as the 

^ Ibid . ; trans. Nicholson, pp. 293-294 . 

2 Nur , p. 89. 


people of Hell cry for a way out of Hell.” 1 The 
following saying of Abu Yazid sums up his ideas on the 
renunciation of the world and of the hereafter: 

The people of (this) world are veiled by the world, 
people of the next world are pre— occupied with the 
next world, the pretenders of §uflsm are veiled by 
eating, drinking and begging ( kudyah ) , and those 
above them $re veiled by listening to music ( sama * ) 
and visions. But the leaders of §uflsm are not 
veiled by any of these. You will see them perplexed 
and drunken. 2 

We should mention, however, that in spite of 
his views with regard to the hereafter discussed above, 

^ Risalah , p. 163. Var. Bilyah . X, 34- and 37; Nur . 
pp. 84, llO and 135; Mir* at, p. 169; Kashf, n. 43b 
Kawakib, p. 247. 

According to another tradition, which may also b« 
a variation of the one cited, Abu Yazid said that God 
has servants who, if they were veiled from God for the 
twinkling of an eye, would not accept Paradise from Him 
after that ( Kawakib . p. 249. Var. Kashf . p. 430). 

_ Rabi ah|al-‘ Adawiyyah (d. 185/801) was the first 
§ufl to have said that Paradise has no value for the 
lover of God (M. Smith, Rabi* ah, the Mystic and her 
fellow Saints in Islam [ Cambridge: The University Press, 
1928], _pp. 70 ff Massignon has also shown that Rabi* ah 
and Abu Yazid considered Paradise as of no value (Essai, 
pp. 216 and 283). 

2 Nur, p. 75. Var. Tadhkirat . I, 160-161. 


Abu Yazid considered the next world to be of some value’*’ 
and hence looked forward to it. According to the Qur’an, 
everyone will be required to give account of his 
actions on the Day of Judgment. For this reason, Muslims 
are very much afraid of the day. Abu Yazid, on the other 
hand, will himself ask God to take account of him, 
because perhaps God, at the time of taking account of 
him, will address him saying, "Oh My servant l" and Abu 


Yazid will reply, "I am present ( labbayk ) ." 

^In fact, if there was a choice between this world 
and the hereafter, Abu Yazid would prefer the hereafter 
to this world; for, when one does this, one's silence 
overcomes his speech, his poverty overcomes his richness, 
his Self is bound by the rope of service to God, his heart 
is afraid of separation from Him and his secret part 
(sirr) is happy enjoying the intimacy (uns) of God's 
companionship. On the other hand, if one chooses this 
world over the hereafter, his ignorance dominates over 
his obedience and his occupation with trivial things 
dominates over his recollection of God ( Nur, p. 96. Var. 
Kawakib, p. 248). "The world", said Abu Yazid, "is for 
the commonality and the hereafter for the 61ite. Whoever 
wants to be one of the elite should not take part in 
this world with the commonality" ( Kawakib . p. 248). 

Again, "I made the world a mirror for the hereafter. 
Whoever has seen the hereafter in it (the mirror) is 
saved, and whoever is distracted by it from the here- 
after, his mirror has been darkened and he has 
parished" (ibid.). 

^Mir’at , p. 165. Var. Kawakib , p. 247. 

Abu Yazid would be willing even to suffer punish- 
ment in order to "know" God, the Punisher ( Nur . p. 49). 


At first glance one may think that there is an 
inconsistency in Abu Yazld' s views on the value of the 
hereafter; for, he spoke of mortification of the here- 
after and, at the same time, considered the Day of 
Judgement to be of some value. But there is no real 
inconsistency here. What Abu Yazld was looking for in 
the hereafter was God's acceptance of him as a true 
worshipper and the grant of permission to enter the 
Court of God, a privilege given only to a true worship- 
per. It is clear, then, that Abu Yazld considered the 
hereafter valuable only in so far as it may be used as 
a means to a higher goal.**' Otherwise, "Paradise is the 
greatest veil because its inhabitants rest in Paradise, 


and whoever rests in anything other than God is veiled." 

b) Mortification of Abstinence: We come across 
the unique and original Bis^aml doctrine of renunciation 
when he said that even abstinence needs to be mortified; 
for, according to him, abstinence has no value Once 

■'‘If God does not give him vision of Him on the Day 
of Judgement, Abu Yazid will cry so hard that the people 
of all seven Hells, having heard this cry, will forget 
the suffering of their punishment ( Tadhkirat , I, 160). 

^Nur, p. 128 . 

^Risalah, p. 15* 


when he asked Abu Musa as to what branch of knowledge 
‘Abd al-RaljIm^ was talking about ( takallama fP .Abu 
Musa replied, "Concerning abstinence (zuhd) from the 
world." Abu Yazld remarked, "What value does this world 


have that he needs to talk about abstinence from it!" 

On another occasion, he said, "... Poor ascetic! If he 
had known that God has called the world the least of 
the little, then how little he possesses of that 'least' and 
how much of even that he abstains from*.^ In fact, 
according to Abu Yazid, "whoever abstains from the world 


has pointed its value in his heart." 

Abu Yazld did not stop at saying that absti- 
nence is of no value; he went much further than this. 
Again, in the true Bis^Im! manner of exaggeration, he, 

■^An * alim of Bist?am ( Mur , p. 120). 

^Ibid . Var. Tadhkirat, I, 163 . 

^ Mir’at , p. 165. Var. Kur, p. 128; Hilyah . X, 37. 

According to one tradition, God having placed Abu 
Yazld in His front A asked him what he had brought to 
Him. In answer, Abu Yazld said that he had brought re- 
nunciation of the world. To this, God said that the 
world to Him is like the wing of a mosquito. Then Abu 
Yazld sought God's forgiveness for having brought 
something of so little significance, and said that he 
had brought trust ( tawakkul )to Him. Thereupon God 
accepted him ( Kawakib , p. ' 245) . 

4 _ 

Nur, p. 107. 


for the first time, declared that abstinence, and even 
worship ( 4 ibadah ) and knowledge (‘ilm) need to be morti- 
fied because these are veils. He said, 

The most veiled from God are three (people) by 
three things: the zahid by his zuhd, the ‘abid 
(worshipper) by his ‘ ibadah (worship) and the ‘ alim 
by his ‘ilm.... Poor zahid 1 He associates himself 
with zuhd and moves in the field ( maydan) of 
zuhhad (ascetics). (I wish) he knew the triviality 
of the world, in what thing he is a zahid and how 
valuable is that in which he does zuhd 1 . What posi- 
tion he has among the zahidun (ascetics) l Indeed, 
the zahid looks at himself. So he remains with 
himself and cannot turn his eyes to any other than 
himself. As for the ‘ abid . he cares more for God’s 
gift (minnah) to him in worship than worship (itself) 
so that his worship is drowned in the gift. As re- 
gards the ‘ alim . if he knows that all that God has 
shown of knowledge is only one line of ttie Protected 
Tablet, how much does he know of that knowledge 
(which is in the Protected Tablet) and how much 
does he practise of what he knows?'*’ 

Abu Yazxd further said that the "people of love are 

■**Ibid, ,pp. 120-121. Var. ibid ., p. 128; Mir* at . 
pp. 1^PT65; Bilyah . X, 36-57; Kawakib . p. 2WT» 

On another occasion Abu Yazid said, "There is 
nothing better for a man than to be always poor having 
nothing with him: neither tazahhud . nor ta* abbud . nor 
‘ilm" ( Nur . p. 110). 


veiled by their own love ." 1 Abu Yazld himself discovered 
that even his recollection ( dhikr ) of God constituted 
a veil for him. He said, "I remembered God for thirty 
years. Then I rested and found that my veil was my re- 
collecting Him ." 2 3 4 * Once asked if the * arif was veiled by 
anything, Abu Yazld replied that the ‘arif is his own 
veil. ^ Abu Yazld went still further and declared 
abstinence to be polytheism ( shirk ) . Hence, he called 
for the mortification of abstinence itself. He said, 


"Seek abstinence in abstinence."^ According to another 
tradition, he said, 

I was an ascetic for three days. On the fourth 
day I came out of it ... . On the first day I 
abstained from the world and what is in it; on the 
second I abstained from the hereafter and what is 
it it; and on the third day, I abstained from what 
is in between the two 6 except God. On the fourth 

^ilyah . X, 36. Var. Mur, p. 135; Tabaqat (SulamI), 
p. 65: KasEf , p. 133 • 

2 Nur, p. 80. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 159* 

3 Hilyah . X, 38. 

4 Nur , 128. 

3 Ibid. , p. 54- 

Perhaps by this Abu Yazld was referring to God's 
gifts which He offers to the seekers on their way to 
Him. Prom his point of view, even these constitute ^ 
veils; for, they are other than God. Hence, Abu Yazld 


day, nothing remained for me except God. Then I was 
overcome and heard a voice saying, "You do not have 

insisted on the renunciation of these gifts. He said to 
Abu Musa, "Look I If He (God) gives you all that he has 
given to the prophets, tell Him, 'I want You and nothing 
other than You" (ibid., pp. 76-77) • On several occasions, 
Abu Yazid refused to accept from God anything other than 
Him. Once, God, having enlightened him with His own 
essence, addressed him, saying, "Oh My proof (bun.iah) i" 
But Abu Yazid refused to serve as His proof to Siscrea- 
tures; for, in that case, he would be merely an interme- 
diary between God and creatures, and not God Himself. So 
he said to God, "You are Your own proof. I have no need 
for that" ( ibid . , p. 123). Abu Yazid told Yafcya, 

God made me enter the lowest part of the sphere, 
took me around in the bottom of the angeliclworld 
(malakut) and showed me the earth and what is under 
it up to its soil. Then He introduced me to the 
highest sphere, took me round the heavens and showed 
me Paradise and the Throne in it. Then He put me in 
front of Him and said, "Ask Me for something that 
you see and I shall give it to you!" I said, "I do 
not find anything good to ask of you." God said, 

"You are my real servant l You worship Me sincerely 
for Myself" (*Abd Allah b. As 4 ad al-Yafi‘1, Rawd 
al-Rivahin fi Hikayat al-Salihin [Cairo : Shirkat 
Maktabat wa Ma-pbu*at Mustafa, 1955), pp. 285-286). 

Another time Abu Yazid said, 

God made me stand before Him at one thousand sta- 
tions ( mawqif ) . At every station He offered me a 
kingdom; but I said, "I do not want it." At the 
last station He said, "Oh Abu Yazldi What do you 
want [We are reading the text as ma turidu instead 
of uridu in Badawl ' s_edition of ljur ]? I said. 'I 
want no'-fc to want" (Nur, p. 113 • Var. Tadhkirat, I, 
158 ). 

According to another similar tradition, Abu Yazid said, 

I crossed the deserts until I reached the valley; 

I crossed the valley until I reached the malakut . 
and I crossed the malakut until I reached the King. 

I said, "Give me permission (to enter) l" He said, 

"I give you all that you have seen." I said, "You 
know that I do not want anything of that.’* He said, 
"Then_what do you want?" I said [the text in 
Badawi's edition of Nur is wrong here; it should 



the capacity to bear Us." I said, "I was looking 
for these words." The voice said, "You have found l 
You have found 1"^ 

Here again we have a problem more or less simi- 
lar to that which we faced in connection with Abu 

— p 

Yazid's views on the mortification of the hereafter. 

'That is, on the one hand he insisted on abstinence 
from this world as well as from the next, and on the 
other hand he considered abstinence not only as of no 
value but also as an evil. Was Abu Yazid inconsistent? 

Our answer to this is again similar to the one 
we suggested in connection with his views on the morti- 
fication of the hereafter. The ultimate aim of the §ufl 
is immediate vision of God and unification with Him. 

be qultu instead of gala] , "I want not to want." He 
said, "Then We give you (permission to enter)" (ibid., 
p. 115. Of. also Tadhkirat , I, 145). 

^Nur . p. 117. Var. Mir* at « pp. 166-167; Risalah, 
p. 15: Tadhkirat . I, 167; Kawakib . p. 246. 

According to Abu Yazid, God said that if a servant 
cuts himself off from everything other than Him, He will 
make for him a life which has no death and a kingdom 
which never perishes, and will cause His will to flow 
into his will (Nur, p. 110); if he engages himself with 
God completely. Be will raise the veils between the ser- 
vant and Him ( Ibid . ) . 


Supra , p . 160 . 


Worship, learning, abstinence, etc. are all helpful in 
the journey towards the goal no doubt; as long as these 
are considered as means towards an end, these are cer- 
tainly valuable. But the moment these are taken as ends 
in themselves, they act as a veil; for, these are all 
"other" than God. Hence Abu Yazld prayed, "Godi Do not 
make me an 4 alim, nor a zahid, nor one who seeks near- 
ness (to You) . If You qualify me (with anything at all), 
qualify me with a little Of Your things", i.e. qualify 
me with a thing of Your secrets and realities ( ma* anl) .^ 

One can notice here that Abu Yazld did not want 
even nearness to God; for, this is still "other" than 
God Himself. God is single ( fard ) ; hence He should be 
sought completely abstracting oneself from everything 
other than Him.^ The implication in this is that it is 
necessary to pass beyond all ways and means and meet the 
Divine face to face "with nothing". As Abu Yazld said, 
"Leave the way ( tariqah ) (and) you will reach God."^ 

And again, "The (real) servant has nothing better than 

%ur , pp. 53-54* 

The explanation of "a little of Your things" is 
al-Sahlagi' s. 

2 _ 

. Ibn Hunawwar , Asrar , 256 . 

%ur, p. 104; Tadhkirat . I, 169* Var. Nur, p. 128; 
Tadhkirat, I, 168. 


having nothing — neither asceticism, nor learning nor 
action (*amal). When he possesses nothing, he has 
everything." 1 

iii) Mortification is the Result of Divine Grace 

From the above discussion, we may get the 
impression that man, by his own efforts, achieves morti- 
fication of the Self at the lower as well as at the 
higher levels. But according to Abu Yazid, human acts 

are of no value and, in fact, God is not in need of 

them. These are useless so far as the mortification 
of the Self is concerned. Abu Yazid engaged himself in 
pious acts, but he realised that these acts could not 

1 Tadhkirat . I, 162. 

The above classification of the degrees of self— 
mortification into different levels and sub-levels is 
based on our own understanding of Abu Yazid* s sayings 
and reports of his deeds. 

Al-Sarraj has classified ascetics into three classes. 
The first class is represented by novices who renounce 
their worldly possessions and free their hearts of what 
they have renounced; the second class is represented by 
those who renounce the pleasures of the Self, e.g., goy, 
praise and reputation arising out of the renunciation 
of the world. The third and the highest class of 
ascetics consider this world so worthless that they 
hate to pay any attention to it; they regard even reun - 
ciation of it as turning away from God, and thus they 
renounce renunciation itself and return to Him (Luma* . 
pp. 46-47). 

^Nur, p. 105. 


free him from the shackles of the Self. He said, "I was 
drowned in the seas of actions ( a*mal) for forty years . 
Then I came out and saw myself tied with a Magian 
girdle." 1 

If human acts do not help to achieve mortifica- 
tion of the Self, what is it that makes this possible? 
Abu Yazld answered that it is God's help which enables 
man to mortify the Self step by step. Hence he talked 
of God's gifts (minnat) while others talked of human 
actions; for, the latter are impure and therefore can 


never lead one to the Pure. He said, "I do not see in 
prayer anything except exertion of the body and in 
fasting anything except starving." Commenting on this, 
al-Sahlagl says that Abu Yazld made this statement 
after his attainment of the final goal; for, at this 
stage he realized that things that were done before 
were not done through his own efforts but by God's 
grace ( fadl) .^ It is God who made Abu Yazld forget his 

1 Ibid. , p. 117. Var. ibid., p. 64; Tabaqat (Ansarl), 
p. 90. 

^Tadhkirat . I, 168. 

%ur, p. 94. 

‘A^ar quotes Abu Yazld 's saying as folows: 

He said, "I did not find in prayer anything except 
standing and in fasting except starring. Whatever 
I have is due to His grace ( fadl ) . not due to my 


Self 30 tie said that one should regard mortification 


as the result of God's grace and not of one's own acts. 
Once asked about the most difficult thing on the §ufl 
way,^ Abu Yazld replied, "I continued to drive my Self 
to God; but the Self wept until it drove me to Him and 

4 , _ 

it laughed." Avar's version of the same saying, which 

deeds." Then he said, "You cannot attain anything with 
renunciation or acquisition (kasb). What I have achieved 
is more than the two worlds. Thejfortunate man is he who 
walks and suddenly steps on a treasure and becomes rich 
(Tadhkirat, I, 155). 

l - 

*lTur, p. iiy. 

^ Tadhkirat , I, 164. 

Of. the following words of a hymn in a Hymnal by 
an anonymous Christian writer: 

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew 

He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me; 

It was not I that found, 0 Saviour true: 

No, I was found of Thee. 

Thou didst reach forth Thy hand and mine enfold; 

I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea, 

'Twas not so much that I on Thee took hold, 

As Thou, dear Lord, on me. 

I find, I walk, I love, but 0 the whole 
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee! 

For Thou wert long beforehand with my soul; 

Always Thou lovedst me. 

( Pilgrim Hymnal [Boston: The Prilgrim Press, 1964], 
hymn No. 5/8). 

^Eadhkirat , I, 142. 

^Nur, p. 99* * Var. Kawakib, p. 248. 


is an explanation of the same, makes the idea clear. 
According to his version, Abu Yazid was dragging the 
Self to God's presence on his own with the result that 
it wept, i*e., he failed in his objective. But then came 
God's help so that Abu Yazid took the Self to Him 
easily and it became happy. 1 On another occasion, Abu 
Yazid said, "Through God I am advancing, and through 
myself I am falling behind. If man sees his own Self, 
he uses his own free-will; but if he loses his Self 
(i.e., is without Self), he is chosen (by God)." 2 He 
prayed to God saying, "I ask You to annihilate my I- 
ness ( anlniyyah) from me so that my I-ness will be You. 
Oh my Friend! You will then remain alone and see only 
Yourself ! " 'KJod" , said Abu Yazid, "accepted my prayer 
and put me in ecstacy."^ It is God who guided Abu Yazid 
to the cultivation of the Self by a variety of acts of 
worship and He led him to the funeral cloth, so that 

1 Tadhkirat, I, 142. 

This is an example of how ‘Avar's quotations are 
helpful in understanding the intent of the §ufls. 

2 Hur . p. 113. 

5 Ibid., p. 125. 


he washed himself clean of the impurities 

It seems to us that Abu YazXd spoke of two 
levels of Divine help in the mortification of the Self. 
On the first level God opens the heart of a man 
causes him to embark on a journey along the §ufl path. 
Al-SahlagI tells us that Abu Yaald used to have heart- 
ache in the beginning and thought that it was some sort 
of physical malady. But when the time of pilgrimage 
approached, a traveller told him that when God wants to 
adopt someone as His friend. He takes his heart in 
eagerness in order to purify it. On hearing this, Abu 
Yazxd realized that his heart— ache was due to the desire 
of the heart for God and to God's demand for it. * I 2 This 
is the start. But man is too weak to proceed in the 
journey. Hence comes God's help which makes him 

*Ibid., p. 66. 

The following saying of Abu Yazld presents, in 
essence, the whole process of self-mortification: 

I made the world my enemy and went to the Creator. 

I chose the Creator in opposition to the creatures so 
that God's love overcame me in such a way that I made 
my own Self my enemy. When I removed the obstacles 
( zafrmat ) from in between, I received the intimacy (uns) 

of baga’ by the grace ( lutf) of God (Tadhkirat, I, 161). 

2 Nur, p. 49. 

Of* 8.1 so ibid. * * p* 66* 


strong 1 and thus enables him to mortify the Self stage 
by stage. As we have seen, Abu Yazld said that he had 
advanced in his journey when God helped him, but, had 


lagged behind when he depended on himself. On the first 
level, then, although there is God's help from the very 
beginning of the journey, there seems to be at least 
some element of effort on the part of man. 

But although, in the first level of the mortifi- 
cation of the Self, human effort seems to be of some 
use, it cannot take the novice to the journey's end. Qhe 
completion of the last part of the journey depends 
exclusively on God's grace. As Abu Yazld said, 

I put off seventy Magian girdles from my waist, 
but one (still) remained. I tried to open it, but 

1 failed. (Then) I implored (God) saying, "Oh God! 
give me strength to open this one." A voice came, 

"You have taken off all the Magian girdles, but it 
is not within your power to put off this one."^ 

^ Tadhkirat , I , 162 . 


Supra , p . 170. 

General §ufi theory recognizes this as the_distinc— 
tion between the maqamat (station ) and the ahwal ( states) . 
The maqamat result from human effort, while the ahwal 
are Goa's grants to man (see Kashf . pp. 224-225) • 

^Tadhkirat, I, 159* 


He said again, "Nearness cannot be achieved by acquisi- 
tion. The fortunate”** servant is the one who walks and 
his feet sinks in a treasure." This means, says al- 
Sahlagl, that little things can be achieved by efforts, 


but great things are obtained only by luck. 

If mortification is the result of Divine grace, 
what is it that accounts for one's receiving God's 
grace while others are deprived of it? The answer is 
that when God wills the good of a servant, He chooses 
him with this special gift. So it is God's will which 
determines who will be the recipient of His grace. 

The idea of Divine grace is very important in 
Abu Yazxd's thought. We shall see later that (ma^rifah), 
tawfrld and, in fact, anything that is attained by the 
§ufl is the result of Divine grace and not of human 

***The Arabic word in the text is .jawharl which 
literally means essential, substantial, precious, etc. 

^Nur , p. 94. 

Chapter IV 

tawsId (unification) 

The summum-bonum of the §ufl is the experience 
of tawhld , i.e., unification with God. This experience 
occurs in a state of the heart which Abu Yazld, perhaps 
for the first time in the history of §uflsm, designated 
as f ana * . In order to understand Abu Yazld' s doctrine 
of tawbld . therefore, it is necessary for us to under- 
stand his concept of fana * , i.e., passing-away or 

1. Fana* 

i) Meaning of Fana * 

The Arabic word fana * is derived from the root 
f n y; which, in the verb form I, means to disappear or 
perish. This word is used in the Qur’an to describe 
the nature of the world as opposed to that of God. The 
Qur’an says, "Everything perishes (fanin) except His 
[God's] Face ( wa.ih) . In the technical language of 

^■Qur’an, 28:88. 



the §ufls, fan a 8 means the disappearance of all that 
is evanescent so that the Eternal may take its place 
in the heart. As al-Kalabadhi says, 

Passing-away [fana* ] is a state in which all 
passions [ huzuz ] pass away, so that the mystic 
experiences no feelings towards anything whatso- 
ever, and loses all sense of discrimination: he 
has passed away from all things, and is wholly 
absorbed with that through which he has passed 
away. 1 

In this state, the §ufls experience the truth of the 
Qur’anic verse to which we have referred above. Prom 
the §ufl point of view, the idea of f ana * is illus- 
trated in the Qur’anic story of the Egyptian women's 
vision of Yusuf (Joseph) . First the human attributes 
( bashariyyah ) 

prevailed in the women of Egypt as they gazed, 
enraptured, on the wondrous beauty of Yusuf (Joseph), 
on whom be peace! But afterwards the preponderance 
was reversed, until at last they beheld him with 
their human nature annihilated ( ba-fana-yi 
bashariyyat ) and cried: " This is no human being ” 
(Kor. xii, 31) • They made him their object and 


gave expression to their own state. 


^a^rruf, p. 123; trans. Arberry, Doctrine, 

120 . 


Kashf, p. 37; trans. Nicholson, p. 32. 


They cut their own hands 1 because, as a result of the 
complete loss of consciousness, they did not feel the 
pain. 2 * 

ii) Nature of the experience of Fana 8 

The goal of the process of self -mortification 
is the state of f ana 8 . Piety ( salah ) and renunciation, 
said Abu Yazld, are of no avail if these do not lead 
one to the root ( qa 8 idah) of f ana 8 . ^ Having renounced 
the world, the hereafter and even renunciation, the 
heart of Abu Yazid had now been swept clean of all the 
dirt and filth of the Self. He "came out of his Self 
as a snake from its skin." 4 5 * All his creaturely attri- 
butes disappeared; hence there remained no state to 
which creatures are subjected. Once^ when asked how 
he was that morning, Abu Yazld replied, "No morning, 
no evening. Indeed, morning and evening are for the 
one who has attributes. But I have no attribute . 

Qur’an, 12 : 31. 

2 Ta^arruf, pp. 126-127. 

^Tadhkirat . I, 162. 

^Nur, pp. 77 and 118;Tadhkirat, I, 157* Var. Kawakib, 
p . 2467^ 

5 Nur, p. 111. Var. Tadhkirat . I, 155. 

Cf. Tadhkirat . I, 147-148. 


In the highest state of fana* the §ufi 
possesses nothing — "neither asceticism, nor learning, 
nor action ( * amal ) . He becomes completely oblivious 
of what is happening within or without him; his "heart 
is not occupied with what his eyes see, nor with what 


his ears hear." This is illustrated in the following 
tradition. One of Dhu al-Nun's disciples came to Abu 
Yazld' s cell and knocked at the door. Abu Yazld asked, 
"Who are you, and whom do you want?" He replied, "Abu 
Yazld." Abu Yazid said, "Who is Abu Yazid, where is 
Abu Yazld and what thing is he? I have been looking 
for Abu Yazld for a long time, but I have not found 
him. ‘A^-fear tells us another story according to which 
Abu Yazld was lost in God in such a way that he could 
not remember the name of one of his disciples, although 
this disciple associated with the master for twenty 
years. In explanation, Abu Yazid said that God's 
name entered his heart and expelled all other names 
from it. Hence he would quickly forget any name that 

1 Supra , p .167. 


Tabaqat (SulamI), p. 67. 

^ Supra . p . 107 . 


he would learn 


Abu Yazld expressed his experience of f ana ’ in 
connection with his mi* ran . He said, 

I ascended to the field ( may dan ) of nothingness 
CLaysiyyah ) . Then I continued to fly in it for ten 
years until I passed from nothing in nothing 
through nothing. Then I ascended to loss ( tadyl * ) 
which is the field of tawhid . I continued to fly 
through nothing in loss until I was completely lost 
in loss, and I was lost, and was indeed lost even 
to loss through nothing in nothing in the loss^ of 
loss. Then I ascended to tawhid in the absence of 
creatures from the * arif and in the absence of the 
* arif from creatures.^ - 

The above text illustrates an extreme state in 
Abu Yazld' s experience of self-lessness, of a void. He 

^Tadhkirat, I, 157* 

Of. the following story told of al-Junayd: 

A certain man came to Junayd and said: "Be present 
with me for a moment that I may speak to thee." 
Junayd answered: "Ohl Young man, you demand of me 
something that I have long been seeking. For many 
years I have been wishing to become present with 
myself a moment, but I cannot; how, then, can I 
become present with you just now?" (Kashf , p. 322; 
trans. Nicholson, p. 250). 

2 Infra, pp. 191-193. 

7) ~L 

•'Vie are reading the word as diya ah . 

^Luma * , p . 387 . 


was totally lost. He was lost even to the consciousness 
of being lost, i.e., he was unconscious even of his 
unconsciousness. Hence al-Junayd refers to this state 
of Abu Yazld as fana* *an al-fana * 

What is it that makes the §ufl forget himself 
completely? The answer is: his love for God. This love 
for God needs to be absolutely pure. Hence the real 
§ufl loves nothing besides God; for "the love of God 


makes you forget this world and the next." God does 
not tolerate anything short of love of Him alone. He 
is a (jealous God and thus does not want to be loved 
along with anything else. Abu Yazld experienced God's 
jealousy on several occasions. "One night I searched 
my heart but did not find it. At dawn I heard a voice 
saying, 'Oh Abu Yazld 1 Are you looking for something 
other than Us?'"^ On another occasion, his attention 
was distracted from God by an apple. He said, "This is 
a beautiful (lajlf) apple" referring to an apple which 
he was holding in his hands. At once he realized that 
he had applied God's name, Latlf . to an apple. He 

1 Ibid . . p. 588. 


Tadhkirat,l, 167. 

^Nur, p. 118; Tadhkirat, I, 161. 


remained oblivious of God's name for forty days. 
Thereupon, he promised never to eat another apple. 1 2 

iii) Degrees of Fan a* 

Self -mortification results in the state of 
f ana * . But since self-mortification, as we have seen 


above, has different levels, we can perhaps speak of 
different degrees in the experience of fana’ The 
lowest degree of f ana 8 results from the mortification 
of the Self in its relationship with the world, that 
is, from the mortification of low desires and passions 
such as hunger, thirst, pride, desire for domination, 
prestige, etc. The next higher stage of fana* consists 

1 Nur, pp. 142-143; Tadhkirat « I, 141; Kawakib, p.24$. 

The story of "the night of milk", which we have nar- 
rated on p.122 « also shows God's intolerance of any- 

thing short of love of Him alone. 

2 Supra ,pp. 137-167. 


-'This is our classification of the degrees of f ana 3 * * * * 
according to Abu Yazld's teachings. There are, however, 

other ways in which §ufls and §ufl authors have classi- 
fied the levels or degrees of fana 3 . Al-Junayd, for 

example, classifies f ana 3 into three levels represented 
by three classes of Muslims — ordinary Muslims, theo- 
logians and §ufls. According to this classification, 
the lowest degree of f ana 3 consists in trying to disobey 
the Self. This is the goal of the ordinary Muslims. The 
next higher degree of fana 3 , which is the goal of theo- 
logians, is, annihilation of the pleasures arising out 
of the performance of one's duties to God. The highest 
degree of fana 3 , which is the goal of §ufls, is the one 

in which the Muslim is conquered and overwhelmed by God 

( 1 Abdu-r-Rabb , al-Junayd , pp. 57-59). 


in the disappearance of the fear for Hell and the hope 
for Paradise. The third level of fana ’ is represented 
by a loss of the desire for the gifts of God such as 
the Throne and the Protected Tablet. The highest level 
of f ana ’ results from the renunciation of abstinence 
itself. In this state, the $ufl is unconscious even of 
his unconsciousness. Al-Junayd, as we have seen, calls 
this state fana’ ‘an al-fana’. 1 2 

iv) Positive Aspect of Sana * 

Thus far we have been discussing fans ’ in ne- 
gative terms, i.e., in terms of separation of the 
heart of the §ufl from the world, from the hereafter, 
from the gifts of God and even from fana ’ itself. In 
doing this, we have been describing the negative 
aspect of fans’ . But there is another and more impor- 
tant aspect of the experience of f ana ’ — its positive 
2 _ 

aspect. If the §ufi has lost consciousness of the 

1 Supra , p . 179. 

2 — — 

Fana ’ and bag a ’ are intellectual distinctions of 
the negative and positive aspects of the mystical 
experience. But psychologically, it is difficult to 
make this distinction. It is perhaps for this reason 
that Abu Yazid said, "I did not reach Him (God) until 
I was separated from my Self, (and) I was not separated 
from my Self until I reached Him. Which is the first 


world, of the hereafter and even of his loss of con?* 
sciousness, he exists in God. According to Abu Yazid, 
the §ufl, having been completely self-annihilated and 
creatureless, subsists ( baqi ) on the carpet of God; 
the self-annihilated becomes self-subsistent, the dead 
alive, and the veiled unveiled.^ - Having lost his own 
attributes, the §ufl is clothed in Divine attributes; 
his essence is replaced by Divine essence. In other 
words, he achieves the experience of tawhld . In-flais 
state, Abu Yazid recited, 

My heart has indicated to You until 

I have been annihilated from myself and 
You have remained . 

You have obliterated my name and the trace 
of my body ; 

You have asked about me. and I have said. "You .” 

You have made me forget my imagination ; 

So. wherever I turn. You are there . 

He alone knows ( Tabaqat [An§arl], p. 145). 

For another example of the idea that the states of 
fana’ and baqa * are but two closely related aspects of 
the experience of tawbld . fafra . pp. 185-186. 

1 Tadhkirat, I, 169. 

Abu Yazid once said, "I lowered my head in (the^ 
state of) fana ’ and raised it in (the state of) bag a 
of the Truth ( fraqq ) ( Tadhkirat , I,_154). This meansjthat 
the consciousness of fana * and baqa * interchange as 
rapidly as lowering and raising the head. 

2 Nur . p. 109. 


2. Tawfrid 

i) Meaning of Tawbld 

The Arabic word tawfrid , derived from the root 
w £ d, means, in the verb form II, 'to make one', or 
'to assert oneness'. Theologically, it means belief in 
the oneness of God which is the very basis of Islamic 
faith. The Qur’an expresses the idea of God's oneness 
very clearly in chapter al-Ikhlas . which is sometimes 
called the chapter on tawhld ^ : "(Oh Mulj&mmadi) Say, 

"God is one. He is eternal. He neither begets, nor is 


begotten Himself, and there is no one like unto Him.'" 
It is because of this principle of strict monotheism 
that Islim considers shirk (associating any partner 
with God) as the greatest sin. Consistent with this 
attitude, Islam rejects the Christian doctrine of Tri— 

• nity. The Qur’in says, "Believe, therefore, in God and 
His apostles, and say not 'there is Trinity'. God is 
only one God."^ 

The Mu‘tazilah have carried the belief in the 
oneness of God to its logical conclusion. To vindicate 

1 Infra, p.556. 

2 Qur’an, 112:1-4. 

© 5 Ibid., 4:171. 


the principle of God's absolute unity, they have denied 
the idea of His possession of attributes. According to 
them, possession is a relation showing the duality of 
the subject and object, of the possessor and the 
possessed. Hence, if God possesses attributes, these 
attributes must have been either co-eternal with Him 
or non-eternal, that is, have come into existence after 
God. But neither of these alternatives can be main- 
tained. In the former case, there would have been two 
eternal things — God and His attributes; but this is 
impossible because the Qur’an declares God to be the 
only eternal Being. The Qur’an says, "And everlasting 
is the Face (wajh) of your Lord. and "Everything 


perishes except His Face ( wajh) . In the latter case, 
that is, if the attributes were not possessed by God 
from eternity but came to be possessed by Him later, 
then it would mean that there was a time when God was 
without attributes, and therefore imperfect. This again 
is against the teaching of the Qur’an which says, "You 
will never find a change in the way ( sunnah) of God."^ 
The Mu‘tazilah concluded that the attributes of God 

1 Ibid., 55:27. 

2 Ibid., 28:88. 

5 Ibid. , 53:62. 


mentioned in the Qur’an are identical with His essence. 
God is powerful, for example, not by virtue of His 
’possession' of the attribute of powerfulness, but be- 
cause He is powerful essentially.’*' 

In §ufi language, tawbid is much more than 
mere confession of God's oneness; it is a verification 
of His oneness by means of personal experience. In the 
state of tawbid , the §ufl sees, as if with the direct 
sight of an eye-witness, that there is nothing in 
existence except God, and that "everything perishes 


except His Face." This vision occurs only when one 

has achieved a sense of complete self-annihilation. As 

al-Junayd says, one's real vision of God comes 

with the disappearance of his existence (i.e., 
human nature); with the loss of his existence, 

God's existence has been purified; with the purifi- 
cation of God's existence, his own attributes have 
disappeared and, being lost to himself, he is 

For Mu 4 tazilah views on_the problem of God' s attri- 
butes, see ShahrashtanI, Kitab al-Milal waal-Nihal , ed. 
Badran (Cairo, 1951). esp. pp. 8-ll; Abu Rida, Ibrahim 
b. Sayyar al-Nagzam ( Cairo j 1946), pp. 80-98; ‘Allamah - * 
gill! , Al-Bbb al-gadl 4 Ashar . commentary by Miqdad al- 
Fa<}il (Tehran: Markaz-i iSfashr*-! kitab, 1962-1965), pp.27- 
28; D.B. Macdonald, Development of Muslim Theology .. . 

(New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1903), pp. 142-145. 

^Al-Ghazzall^ Mishkat al- Anwar , ed. Abu al- 4 Ald 
4 Aflf I (Cairo: Dar al-Qawmiyyah li-T ib& 4 ah wa al- 
Nashir, 1964), p. 55. ^ 


present in God. Thus, being present with God, he 
is lost to himself, and being lost to himself he 
is present with God . 1 

It is in this state of tawbld that the §ufl having 
experienced a sense of identification with God, cries 
out, ".Glory be to me" as did Abu Yazld, and "I am 
the Truth" as did al-^allaj . 2 

According to al— Junayd, ordinary Muslims, 
theologians and §ufls — all affirm tawhid . but in 
different degrees. The lowest degree of tawhid . which, 
says he, is represented by ordinary Muslims (‘awamm), 
consists in the confession of the oneness of God 
( shahadah ) . But the activities of ordinary Muslims are 
guided by fear of Hell and hope for Paradise. The next 
higher degree of tawhid is represented by the theolo- 
gians ( mutakallimun) who, in addition to the profession 
of shahadah . have reason and knowledge by virtue of 
which they can distinguish clearly between right and 
wrong and act properly according to the commands and 
prohibitions ( al— amr wa al— nahiy ylLaid down by God. 
Nevertheless, the theologians have not been able to 
overcome the forces of fear and hope as motivating 

^l-Junayd, Rasa’ il . p. 51 . 

2 A1-Ghazzali, Mishkat, p. 57 • 


factors of their activities. At the third stage of 
tawhid , which is represented by §ufls, all the nega- 
tive qualities of the earlier stages are gone; the §ufi 
is no longer motivated by the forces of fear and hope. 

He professes God's unity and can perform his duties to 
God properly and distinguish between right and wrong. 

In addition to these, he is now 

sunk in the seas of His unity, self-annihilated 
and dead alike to the call of mankind to him and 
his answer to them, absorbed by the reality of the 
Divine unity in truejproximity, and lost to sense 
and action, because God fulfils in him what He 
hath willed of him...^ 

As we shall see later, Abu Yazid distinguished between 


an ‘abid, zahid, * alim and * arif . Further, we find 
in his teachings a conception of the degrees of tawhid 
represented by different levels of paradoxes. 

^l-Junayd, Rasa’il , p. 56; Kashf , p. 365; trans., 
Nicholson, pp. 282-283 (Ve are quoting Nicholson's 
translation; . 

Of. also Luma*, p. 29- For al-Junayd's classifica- 
tion of Muslims according to the degrees of tawhid re- 
presented by them, see *Abdu-r-Rabb, al- Junayd , pp. 28-34. 

2 Infra, pp . 213- 220. 

5 Infra, pp . 252-274. 


ii) Nature of Tawhld 

Tawljid, according to Abu Yazid, consists in 
the realization that all "movement and rest of crea- 
tures are the work of God, may He be exalted and glori- 
fied, and that there is no partner in His actions. 

When you have known your Lord (in this way) and He has 


settled in you, you have found Him." This means that 

"you realize (lit. see) that God is one and has no 


partner in his actions and no one does His acts." 

Thus, in the state of tawbld , the §ufl "wills by God's 
will, he looks according to God's looking, his heart 
is elevated by God's elevation, his soul ( naf s ) moves 
by the power of God...."^ Once asked who a prince 
( amir ) was, Abu Yazid replied, "The one to whom no 
choice has been left, and whose will has been overcome 
by God's will.”^ 

Abu Yazid 's realization of God as the cause of 
all things was such that he refused to count any other 

^Nur, p. 129. Var. Kawakib , p. 249. 

2 Nur, p. 129. 

^Supra, pp . 116-117 
^Kashf, p. 502. 


number than one. 

A man said to Abu Yazid, "Count for mei" and threw 
(something 1 ) to him. Then he asked, "How many do 
you have with you?" Abu Yazid answered, "One." The 
man threw (something) several times. But Abu Yazid 
said, "One." The man said, "What do you say!" Abu 
Yazid replied, "I do not know anything other than 
one. Many comes from one and not vice versa ; for, 
counting cannot be done except through 1 (one). If 
1000 is completed and 1 (one) is missing, the name 


one thousand will be dropped. 

The realization of God's perfect unity neces- 
sitates being one with God. Just as a man "speaking of 
eternity needs to have the light of eternity with him",^ 
and just as a man "speaking of the beauty of lordship 


needs to have the genus of lordship flowing in him" , 
so the verification of God's absolute unity involves a 
complete identification of his (man's) essence with 
God's. Having reached this state of identification, 

Abu Yazid cried, "I am You, You are I, and I am You"*, 
for, Abu Yazid now realized that God "is the Lord and 

Something that could be counted, e.g., pebbles. 
^Kur, p. 69. 

Cf. Abu Yazid' s explanation of God's oneness, ibid .. 

p. 128. 

3 Ibid., p. 113 ; Hilyah , x, 38. 

^Nur, p. 113. 


the Lord is the servant."*' The differences between Abu 
Yazid and God disappeared altogether so that he said, 


"If I am told 'Ohl', I shall be You." Once when some- 
one knocked at his door and enquired about Abu Yazid, 
he said, "Go away I Woe to you! There is no one in the 

7 . _ T 

house except God."-' That is, Abu Yazid was united with 
God so that he saw nothing other than Him. Al-Hujwlrl 
compares this state of the §ufl with that of Jacob and 
Majnun. "Jacob concentrated his thoughts on Joseph, so 
that he had no thought but of him; and Majnun concen- 
trated his thoughts on Layla, so that he saw only her 
in the whole world, and all created things assumed the 
form of Layla in his eyes.*^ Abu Yazid said on another 
occasion, "For thirty years, God, may He be exalted, 
was my mirror. Now I am my own mirror. This means ; says 
‘Attar, that "I am no more what I was, because * I * and 
God are polytheism. Since I am no more, God, may He be 
exalted, is His own mirror. Lol I say that God is my 

*~ Tadhkirat % I, 142. 

2 Nur, p. 131. 

^Ibid., p. 65. Var. ibid., 131; Kashf, pp. 331-532. 

^Kashf, p. 331 ; trans. Nicholson, p. 258. 

^Tadhkirat , I , 160 . 


own mirror because He speaks with my tongue and I do 
not appear in between, It is in this state of com- 
plete identification with God that Abu Yazid shouted, 


"Glory be to mel How great is my majesty I" 

We find a clear example of Abu Yazid 1 2 s feeling 
of identification with God's essence in his experience 

, x 

of mi ra.j . He said, 

Once God raised me up, placed me before Him and 
said to me, "Oh Abu Yazldl My creatures desire to 

1 Ibid. 

Anything less than a complete identification with 
God falls short of real tawfrld . We are told that once 
Abu Yazid made a moaning sound ( shahaqah ) and a man be- 
hind him saw this moaning sound piercing the veil 
between Abu Yazid and God. Surprised at this, he informed 
Abu Yazid of what he saw. Abu Yazid remarked, "Oh poor 
manl The good moaning sound is the one which, when it 
appears, does not have any veil to pierce." (Nur, 
pp. 134—135). Abu Yazid said again that he would consi- 
der God's asking him on the Day of Judgement "Why did 
you do this?" worse than His question "Why did you not 
do this?" (Tadhkirat, I, 171) because, says ‘A’fcjar, the 
first question asserts the existence of Abu Yazid 's 
I-ness which is infidelity and thus the greatest sin; 

Abu Yazid did not want to come between him and God (ibid .). 

2 Infra, p. 226. 

^ Mi* ra,j refers to the famous Night Journey ( al-Isra ) 
of the Prophet in which Muhammad is believed to have 
been taken from Mecca to Masjid al-Aq§a and thence, 
through seven heavens, to the court of God until he 
stood near God at a distance of two bow-lengths or 
nearer still. The Qur’an briefly refers to the story 
of Muhammad's mi* ra t j (17:1 and 53:4—18) and Traditions 
elaborate on the Qur’anic references. From the fourth/ 
tenth century onward, a series of mi t ra,j legends grew 


see you." I said, "Adorn me with Your oneness 
( wabdaniyyah ) , clothe me with Your I-ness and 
raise me up to Your unity ( abadiyyah ) so that 

up of which at least eighteen are known (Abu al-]_Ala 
‘Aflfi, "The Story of the Prophet's Ascent [ Mi 1 ra,j ] in 
§ufl Thought and Literature", Islamic Quarterly , II 
[19551 » 23-27* For more on Muhammad's mi 1 raj , see: 
" Al-Isra , E.I., II :I, 355-554; E. Widengren, Muhammad , 
the Apostle of God and his Ascension [Uppsala: Uppsala 
Universitets Arsskrift, 1955]; al-Samara’ I , Theme ; L. 
Massignon, La passion d'al-Husayn b. Mansur al-Halla.j 
[Paris: Paul Geuthner, 1922], II, 846 ff). 

Muhammad's mi*ra t i is of special significance to 
§ufls. To them, it means that Muhammad's soul, having 
been loosened from the shackles of the phenomenal world, 
attained God's nearness ( qurb ) (Kashf, p. 306). Hence, 
claiming to be the heirs of the Prophet, they also want, 
in imitation of the Prophet, to experience a mystical 
movement of the soul, stage by stage, until it reaches 
tawbid (On the mystical significance of mi*ra,i , see 
J.C. Archer, Mystical Elements in Muhammad [Hew Haven: 
Yale University Press, 1924], pp. 44-J?l) . 

As far as we know, Abu Yazld was^the first §ufl to 
have_expressed his experience of tawbid in terms of the 
mi 1 raj of the Prophet. Vie shall discuss this point more 
fully in the concluding chapter. 

There are several versions of Abu Yazld' s mi* ra,i . 
Perhaps the earliest recorded version is the frag- 
ments preserved in Luma * (pp. 382, 384 and 387)* In 
quoting these fragments, Massignon ( Essai , p. 278) has 
changed the order in which these are given in Luma * . 
Gardet, although he has depended heavily on Massignon' s 
Essai for his information on Abu Yazld, has retained 
them in the order in which they appear in Luma * 
( Mystique , pp. 111-112) . Other versions are contained 
in Ru' yaT in Nur (pp. 138-141) and in Tadhkirat ( I, 
172-176) . Zaehner has translated the versions in Nur 
and Tadhkirat in the appendix of HMM (pp. 198-218) in 
parallel columns with the purpose of showing the 
difference in the two texts. _Aside from these versions, 
there_are references to mi*ra t j in many short sayings 
of Abu Yazid in Nur and in other works. 


when Your creatures see me, they may say, "We have 
seen You", and You shall be that, and I shall not 
be there 

Abu Yazid added that God listened to his request. He 
adorned him with His oneness and asked him to come out 
before the creatures. Accordingly, he proceeded from 
God to creatures. But "when I took the second step, I 
feel fainting. So He (God) shouted, 'Bring My friend 
backl He cannot bear (separation) from Me.'" 1 2 

God has neither beginning nor end. Since Abu 
Yazld became one with God, he had also been clothed 
with this aspect of God's nature. Abu Yazid said, "My 
example is that of a sea of which neither the depth, 
nor the beginning, nor the end is known. This being 

1 Luma t , p. 382. Var. Nur, p. 116. 

Bor a discussion on the variant translations of 
this passage, see Arberry, "Bis^amiana", pp. 33-34. 

2 Nur, p. 116. 

According to another tradition, Abu Yazld said, "I 
went from God to God. Then a voice said, 'The one (who 
has come) from Me in Mel Oh You II’ ( Tadhkirat . I, 160). 
This seems to imply a passage from God in God. At the 
state of complete identification, Abu Yazid himself was 
God, but yet there seems to be some movement from him 
to God. This might be a passage from union (jam* ) to 
the union of union ( .jam* al-.jam * ) . 

^ Tadhkirat . I, 171. Var. Mur , p. 99. 


the case, Abu Yazid had no resemblance with any created 
being; he was unlike everything other than God, He said, 
“There is no one like me existing in heaven, nor is 
there anyone known with my attribute on earth. Abu 
Yazid was also omnipresent as God is omnipresent. “Just 
as God is not absent from the servant wherever he is, 
so the servant is not absent from God; he is through 
God with God wherever He is, and God is not absent from 


any particular place." 

When rivers and streams flow towards the sea, 
they produce noise. But when they become one with the 
sea, all noise is gone and quietness prevails.^ In 
the same way, on his way to the state of unification, 
Abu Yazid wept and laughed, but when he reached the 
goal, he realized that there is neither weeping nor 


laughter there; for, he was one with the One who is 
at rest. Having drunk from the cup of Divine essence, 

1 Nur, p. 111. 

^Supra . p . 117 .Var. Tadhkirat , I, 165. 

Abu Yazid was now a real believer so that "the 
East and the West are in his hands. Hence he can take 
(anything) from wherever he wants" ( Nur . p. 112). 


Supra , p. 95. 

^Nur, p. 118; Kawakib , p. 248. 


his thirst for God's remembrance disappeared,' 1 2 * 4 ' and he 


reached a state of complete satisfaction. So he said, 
"Oh Lord I I do not want any more than tawbld , 11 ^ for 
"there is nothing more than tawbld . 11 

The experience of tawbld brings to the §ufi a 
feeling of a deepened significance of life. Having 
reached this state, when he looks back to his previous 
life, he finds that it was of no significance at all. 
Hence, when asked how old he was, Abu Yazld replied, 
"Pour years." As an explanation of this, he said, "I 
have been veiled (from God) in this world for seventy 
years, but I have been seeing Him for the last four 
years. I do not count the period of veiling as part of 
my life."'* 

1 Nur, p. 132; Bilyah , X, 35; Kawakib, p. 245. 

Abu Yazld said that if one feels thirsty when he 
reaches the valley of eternity, he will be given a 
drink which will satisfy his thirst forever (Nur, 
p. 89). 

2 Ibid., p. 138. 

5 Tadhkirat, I, 171 

4 - 

Nur , p. 66. 

^Kashf, p. 429. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 169. 


The experience of tawbid is something to be 
tasted and not described; for it is beyond all descrip- 
tion. According to Abu Yazld, the farthest from God 
are those who point to Him. 1 In fact, whoever points 
to Him with ‘ilm points to the object of * ilm ( ma*lunri . 
and this is infidelity; whoever points to Him with 
ma*rifah points to that which is limited ( mahdud’) . and 


this is heresy. Addressing Gtod, he said, "Oh Godl How 
beautiful is that which cannot be revealed to the 
people nor described by tongue ,* for, it is incomprehen- 
sible by intellects."^ He said again that one who has 
achieved this state cannot describe his experience 
because his tongue becomes short. ^ 

iii) The Experience of Tawhld is the Result of God's 

According to Abu Yazid, man cannot attain the 
state of tawhld by his own effort. God favours His 

•^ Luma * , g. 223; Nur , p. 137; Mir’ at , p. 165; Hilyah, 
X, 38; Tabaqa t (Sulami) , p. 66; Tabaqat (Ansarl ) . o. 90: 
Tadhkirat , I, 167; Kawakib , p. 247 

^Luma * , p. 224. Var. Nur , p. 133* 

^Nur , p. 109. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 177. 

^Tadhkirat , I, 169. 


friends and takes care of them, for "§ufls are children 
in the lap of God."^ Hence Abu Yazld reached God 
through Him.^ Addressing God, he said, "I am guided to 
You by You and I reach You through You.^ Prayer, said 
he, is nothing but turning the body, and fasting 
nothing but hunger of the stomach. Commenting on this, 
al-Sahlagl says that Abu Yazld made this statement 
after the realization of the mystical goal when he 
’’became certain that he did not achieve it by his own 
effort, piety, asceticism, acquisition and prepara- 
tion ( intisab ) , but by the grace ( fadl ) of God, may He 
be exalted." * 2 * 4 God made him forget his Self and "drew 
me in such a way that I came nearer (to Him) than the 
soul ( rub) to the body. Then He said, 'They are all my 
creatures except you.' X said, 'I am You, You are I, 
and I am You.'"'’ He said again that God took 

me to the field ( maydan) of unification: Then He 
made me run in the space (fasahat) of Lordhip and 

^Nur, p. 131 • 

2 Ibid . , p. 109; Tadhkirat, I, 177* 

^Nur, p. 133* 

4 Ibid., p. 94. 

^Ibid. , p. 119* 


the beauty of His essence, and said, "Oh my friend '& 
Be my power ( qudrah) and sign ( ayah ) in your earth, 
my lighthouse (manar) in your creation. Then he 
clothed me with the coverings of His lights, 
covered me with His coverings and enlightened me 
with the light of His essence..."^ 

We should notice that in every case, it is God Who was 
acting and Abu Tazld was only behaving as a passive 

iv) Degrees of Tawhid 

— P 

We have discussed different degrees of f ana * . 

According to Abu Yazld, there are also different 

degrees of the experience of the unity of God. When 

asked if the worshipper reaches God in one instant,^ 

Abu Yazld replied, "Yes, but profit and benefit are 


according to the degree of the journey." We shall 

1 Ibid. , p. 99- 

On another occasion, Abu Yazld said that God gives 
a drink to the hearts of His friends at night with the 
result that these hearts fly high in the angelic world 
(malakut) in love for Him ( Mir* at , p. 167). 

^Supra, pp. 180-181. 

^Literally, one hour ( sa* ah ) . But most probably 
Abu Yazld meant by sa* ah an instant rather than an 

^ Nur , p. 137; Bilyah , p. 41. 


discuss these degrees of unification in the next 

3. Ma* rif ah 

There is another aspect of the state of unifi- 
cation. There occurs, in the state of unification, an 
awareness — an illumination of a specific kind — 
which Abu Yazid, as well as most other §ufls, call 
ma‘ rif ah. 

i) Meaning of Ma‘ rif ah 

The word " ma^ifah ". derived from the Arabic 
root r f , means "knowledge” . In the language of 
§ufls, it refers to a special kind of knowledge; it is 
a direct and immediate knowledge of God.^ - The one who 
has this knowledge is called ‘arif, the "knower", and 
God, the object of this "knowledge", is ma^ruf, the 
"Known" . 

Abu Yazid distinguished between two kinds of 
knowledge: exoteric knowledge (‘ ilm al-zahir ) and 

^According to Abu Yazid, God says to the ‘arif: 
"See" (Nur, p. 97 )• 


esoteric knowledge C * iXm al-batin ) The former is 
knowledge from God in the form of the Qur’an and Tra- 
ditions for the guidance of mankind on the right path; 


it is God's proof ( hu,i,iah) to His creatures. This 
knowledge can be transmitted from person to person 
through instruction C ta^llm) . Esoteric knowledge, on 
the other hand, is "useful" (nafi‘) knowledge given by- 
God to his friends directly by means of insnir at ion( ilhan^ 
To prove the existence of this knowledge, Abu Yazid 
cited several examples.^ Muhammad received knowledge 
of this kind in his face-to-face encounter with God. 

Even Gabriel and Michael did not have this knowledge.' 

1 He makes this distinction on the basis of the 
following alleged saying of the Prophet: "Whosoever 
works according to what he knows will be given by God 
knowledge which he does not know" ( ibid «,p» 87 j 
Tabaqat al-Kubra , p. 61). 

2 Nur, p. 87. 

^ Ibid . , pp. 87-88. 

From the §ufl point of view, ilham is a direct ins- 
piration from God; it is binding on the receiver if it 
does not contradict wafri (revelation). Wahl , on the 
other hand, is given to the prophets only through angel 
Gabriel and is binding on all. 

4 Ibid. , p. 88. 

^The reference is to Muhammad's experience in 
mi‘ra,i when he is believed to have come nearer to 
God than even His nearest angels could. 


Moses received this knowledge when God spoke to him;^ 

Khi<Jr was taught knowledge of this kind by God Himself » 


This esoteric knowledge is what is called ma*rifah . 

ii) Nature of the Experience of Ma* rif ah 

When ma* rif ah comes, the heart of the * arif is 
completely subdued by God's omnipotence. On being asked 
about ma* rif ah , Abu Yazid recited a verse of the 
Qur’an which says, "Indeed, when kings enter a city, 
they destroy it and put the mighty men of its people 
to humiliation."^ According to al— Sarraj, this means 
that just as a king, when he conquers a city, enslaves 
its people and debases them in such a manner that they 
lose all power to do anything except in accordance with 
the commands of the conqueror, so also when ma* rif ah 
enters the heart, it casts out of it (the heart) every- 
thing, and nothing moves in it except what is moved 

^■Qur’an, 4:164. 

^We should mention here that sometimes Abu Yazid 
used * ilm to mean esoteric knowledge and sometimes, al- 
though very rarely, ma*rifah to mean exoteric knowledge. 
However, it is not difficult to understand from the con- 
text the real intention of Abu Yazid in these cases* 

^Qur’an, 27:34 ( Luma * p. 92; Risalah, p. 155; Nur, 
p. 129; Mir 1 at , p. l£g7 ~Silyah , X, 37) • 


by it (malrifah) .**■ That is to say, the §ufl realizes 

his absolute dependence on God in every action and 

thought. Ma* rif ah annihilates him, but at the same 


time it makes him alive with the overwhelming con- 
sciousness of God. The 4 arif realizes that "all move- 
ment and rest of the creation is in the hands of God."^ 

Everything other than God having been cast out 
of the heart, "the * arif has no state ( hal ) ; for, his 
traces (rusum) have disappeared^ (lit. are veiled) and 
he does not see anything other than God either in 
sleep or in his waking state The ‘arif has reached 
the state of perfection, which consists in being con- 
sumed in God for Him, and has found his highest reward 

^ Luma * , p . 92 . 

2 Tadhkirat, I, 169- 

5 Ibid., 166. 

A _ 

In Risalah , the word is mubiyat . 

^ Mir’at , p. 168. Var. Tabaqat al-Kubra . p. 61; 
labaqat (Angarl), pp. 561-562; Risalah, p. 155; Kashf, 

P. 355. 

For an explanation of this saying, see Kashf , p.555 • 

6 Nur, p. 155. 

Cf. ibid., p. 81, and Tadhkirat, I, 161 and 162. 


from God which, is God Himself *"^ God has occupied his 
heart in such a way that if there were one hundred 
thousand angels in his heart and all of them were as 
great as Gabriel, Michael and Israfll, he would not be 
conscious of them* In his characteristic manner of 
exaggeration, Abu Yazld said that even if the earth 
and the heavens had hundreds of thousands of Adams, 
and every Adam had hundreds of thousands of generations 
like ours and each of these generations had the life 
of hundreds of thousands of thousands of years accord- 
ing to the counting of Gabriel, Michael and Israfll, 
they (the earth and the heavens) "would be hidden in 
one corner of the corners of the corners of the heart 
of the ‘arif; he would never be aware of them, nor 
would he know their existence in God's creation."^ 

The experience of ma* rif ah brings to the ‘arif 
a profound bliss* Abu Yazld said that this experience 
is sweeter than honey Even the sweetness of Paradise 

1 Nur, p. 129; Tabaqat (SulamI), p. 62; Silyah, X, 37: 
Tadhkirat . I, 163* ' * — ‘ — 

2 Nur , p. 116. 

^ Ibid . , p. 130. Var. Tadhkirat, I, I63. 

4 Mir‘at * pp. 169-170. 


is nothing in comparison with the sweetness of ma*rifah . 

One "atom of the sweetness of ma* rif ah in the heart is 

better than one thousand palaces in the highest 

Firdous."^ Naturally, therefore, the ‘arif, who has 

drunk from the cup of God's love and is drowned in the 


sea of intimacy with Him, does not want to see, hear 
or talk to any other than God. Abu Yazld said, 

When the * arif is silent, he does not have the 
desire to speak except to the One he "knows" ; if 
he shuts his eyes, he does not have the desire to 
open them except to the One he meets; and when he 
puts his head on his knees, he does not have the 
desire to raise them until the Day of Resurrection 
due to the intensity of intimacy with Him.^ 

"The lowest attribute of the * arif " , said Abu 
Yazld, "is that the attributes of God and the genus of 

^Tadhkirat, I, 162. 

On another occasion Abu Yazld said that the Para- 
dise of Na‘im is temporary whereas the Paradise of 
ma* rif ah is permanent (Nur, p. 88), and that Paradise 
will be an evil to the * arif whereas he will be a 
reward to Paradise (ibid., p. 92). 

^Nur, p. 102. 

5 Ibid. , p. 101. Var. Tadhkirat, I, 162. 

Abu Yazld said on another occasion that it is 
impossible for one to "know" God and yet not love Him 
( Nur , p. 122). 


lordship flow in him." 1 2 * 4 This is another typical Bis-fcamI 
exaggeration. What is the highest attribute of the 
* arif if his lowest attribute consists of the inflowing 
of God's attributes and the genus of lordship in Him? 

The answer is that in real ma*rifah . the subject-object 
relationship of the ‘ arif and the ma* ruf disappears; 


the * arif and ma* ruf become one; man becomes God Him- 
self because real ma* rif ah is possible only for God. 

Now, this being the case, nothing in heavens 
and on earth is hidden from the * arif ? and he becomes 
powerful over everything^ because God knows everything 
and is powerful over everything. 

The experience of ma*rifah gives the * jjjr-i f 
silence and rest. Drowned in the ocean of unity, the 
* arif "is not delighted by anything at all, nor is he 

1 Nur, p. 112. Var. ibid., p. 79; Tabaqat (SulamI), 

p. 62. 

Cf. Nur, p. 82. 

2 Nur, p. 115. 

At this stage, God becomes the protector of the 
arif ; for, otherwise, he would go astray ( Mir’at , p.167). 

^Tabaqat (An§arl) , p. 93 • 

4 _ 

Nur , p. 100. 


ever afraid of anything." 1 2 * 4 On the way there is noise, 
screaming and confusion arising out of longing for the 
Owner of the House and out of fear for Him. But in the 
house there is silence, glorification ( ta* zlm ) . awe 
and discipline due to the ma*rifah of the Owner of the 

iii) How Ma* rif ah is Achieved 

How can man achieve ma* rif ah ? Abu Yazld 
answered: "By an empty stomach and a naked body";^ "by 
deafness, dumbness and blindness"^ to all other than 
God; by losing all that belongs to man and witnessing 

1 Ibid. , p. 130. 

As for Hell-fire, the * arif will not be afraid of 
it, but he will be a punishment for it ( Tadhkirat, 

2 _ 

Nur, p. 100. 

Ma* rif ah also brings perplexity to the ‘arif. Abu 
Yazld said that when the * arif "knows" God, he "'becomes 
perplexed at God's greatness" ( ibid ., p. 102). 

5 Supra, p . 144. 

4 — 

Nur . p. 67. 


to what belongs to God;* 1, 2 * 4 "by destroying ( tadyl * ) what 


they (men) have and standing firm with what is His." 
"The least that is obligatory on the * arif is to give 
away what he possesses."** Abu Yazld advised someone, 
saying, "Know your Lord without consciousness (lit. 
"knowledge") of your Self and without the vision of 
your heart. Refrain from being deceived by anything 
other than God." He said again that one who "knows" 

God renounces all that distracts his attention from 

he stays at the door of his Lord and does not re- 
turn from it with a charitable gift ( birr ) . He 
advances towards Him without being attracted to 
anything which may veil him from God. He turns and 
moves in the galaxy ( ma.iarrah ) of the intimacy of 
his Lord and around communion ( muna.iah ) with Him. 

He is never satisfied being occupied with anything 

1 Ibld . 

The ‘arifs, said Abu Yazld, "flee away from crea- 
tures" ( ibid . . p. 102); they "give up everything for the 
sake of Him (God)" (ibid., p. 100). 

2 Ibid .. p. 135; Mir* at , p. 164; Risalah, p. 156; 
Hilyah , X, 39; Tabaqat (SulamI), p. 64; Kawakib , p. 247. 

^Nur, p. 130. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 163. 

4 Nur, p. 119 

^Ibid. , p. 133; Tabaqat (SulamI),- p. 67. 


other than God, may He be exalted and glorified, 
and he escapes from creatures to the Creator, from 
all relations (asbab) to the Owner of relations 

One reaches ma* rif ah when one becomes annihilated in 

the awareness of God and subsists on His carpet — 


self-less and creatureless. 

The real cause of ma*rifah . according to Abu 

Yazld, is God Himself. "The people of inspiration 

( ilham ) are those whom God has specified with grants 

out of grace ( fadl) and generosity from Him" ^ Abu 

Yazld prayed to God saying, "Lord! Make me understand 

You, for I cannot understand You except through You."^ 

God granted Abu Yazld' s prayer. Hence he "knew" God 

through Him. He said, "I 'knew' God through me so 
that I became annihilated. Then I 'knew' Him through 

1 Nur, p. 130. 

Cf. Tadhkirat . I, 162 and 168. 
^Tadhkirat, I, 169. 

^Infra , p . 211, n. 3. 

Nur, p. 135. Var. Mir’ at, p. 166; Silyah, X, 38; 
Tabaqat (Sulami), p. 6^~ 

5 Nu r, p. 129; Hilyah , X, 37; Tadhkirat . I, 179. 

This reminds us of Dhu al-Nun's saying "I 'knew' 
my Lord through Him" (Risalah, p. 156). 


Him with the result that I became alive." 1 2 * God "chooses 
a worshipper for Himself, protects him from disobeying 
Him and enables him to converse (with Him) through his 


heart..." Thus ma 4 5 rif ah is God's generosity granted 
to His chosen ones. 

It seems that ma 4 rif ah . according to Abu Yazld, 
is imposed on the 4 arif by God. While speaking of the 
stages of reaching God, he said, "He (God) has encom- 
passed them. So it is not possible for them to depart."^ 
But the force of ma 4 rif ah is overwhelming. "If one 
atom of Him were revealed to the creatures, the uni- 
verse and all that it contains would not have remained.'^ 
Naturally, therefore, all men cannot bear its burden. 
Well aware of this, God grants ma 4 rif ah to the special 
burden-bearers, to those whom He has chosen for Himself 
protected and enabled to converse with Him.^ 

1 Nur, p. 83. 

2 Ibid., p. 69. 

5 Ibid., p. 73. 

^Ibid., pp. 84- and 110. 

5 Ibid., p. 69. 


Since God is the sole cause of ma*rifah , the 
‘arif realizes that in respect of ma* rif ah he has 
nothing and God has everything, that he is completely 
ignorant while all ma* rif ah belongs to God* Abu Yazid 
said, "The servant continues to be an * arif as long as 
he is ignorant. When his ignorance disappears, his 
ma* rif ah ceases to exist." 1 

According to Abu Yazid, the experience of 
ma* rif ah cannot be understood or communicated. Once 
asked by someone how he "knew" God, Abu Yazid answered, 
"If you "knew" (Him), you would not ask me about it. 
One who does not "know" God does not understand what 
an * arif says; and one who "knows" God has no need of 
asking the question." 2 Therefore, the * arif does not 
like to discuss ma*rifah . On being told that Sahl b. 
‘Abd Allah was discussing ma* rif ah , Abu Yazid said, 
"Sahl is a seeker (lit. seeks) on the shore of 
ma* rif «b , but he has not been drowned in the waves 
(of the sea)."^ "The one who "knows" God is lost and 

1 Ibid . , p. 118. Var. Tabaqat (An§arl), p. 562; 
Tadhkirat, I, 165* 

2 Kur, p. 97* 

Cf. Tadhkirat, I, 164. 

^Nur, pp. 75-76. Var. Tadhkirat , I, 169* 


does not concern oneself with (its) expression."^ The 
real * aril s "keep (their ma*rifah ) secret; and when 
they have kept it secret, they rest in His (God's) 
ma* rif ah." 1 2 

iv) Degrees of Ma* rif ah 

It seems that Abu Yazld distinguished between 
three levels of ma* rif ah ^: ma* rif ah of the common run 
of Muslims ( al-* awamm ) , ma* rif ah of the dlite (al- 
khawass ) and ma*rifah of the elite of the elite 
( khawass al-khawass ) • 

Ma* rif ah of the commonality is the ma*rifah of 
servanthood ( * ubudiyyah ) and of lordship 
( rububiyyah ) .of obedience and of disobedience. 

This is "knowledge" of the "enemy" (i.e. of Satan) 
and of the Self ( nafs ) . Ma* rif ah of the elite is 
the ma* rif ah of glorification ( i.jlal ) and of exal- 
tation ( * aaamah ) , of goodness ( ibsan ) and of gift 
(minnah ) . This is ma* rif ah ofjsuccess ( tawfxq ) . As 
for the ma* rif ah of the elite of the dlite, it is 
the ma* rif ah of intimacy ( uns ) and of addressing 

1 Nur, p. 129. 

2 Ibid., p. 102. 

^He said, "The people of inspiration ( ilhim ) are 
those whom God has specified with grants of grace ( fadl) 
and generosity from Him; and He has made some of them 
superior to others in inspiration ( ilham ) and clair- 
voyance ( firasah )" (ibid., p. 88). 


( muna.jah ) , of grace ( lutf ) and of favour ( talattuf) . 
This is the ma* rif ah of the heart ( qalb ) and of the 
secret part ( sirr ) 

In the above text, Abu Yazld used ma* rif ah in 
a general sense. Even the common run of Muslims have 
ma t rifah . They know man's rights and what they owe to 
God. They know the difference between the worshipper 
and the Worshipped, the lowliness of the Self and how 
to worship God. But this is the lowest degree of 
ma t rifah ; for, this group places an emphasis upon God 
as a severe dispenser of justice. The common run of 
Muslims representing this ma* rif ah are perhaps the 
worshippers ( * abidun) . ^ 

Prom Abu Yazld' s point of view, the knowledge 
of the elite is also ma* rif ah . They know how to exalt 
and glorify God because they recognize God's goodness 
and gift. Their ma* rif ah is higher than that of the 
commonality. But even at this level of ma^ifah . the 
knowers are not very near and intimate with the object 
of their knowledge; they still exalt and glorify God 
and are concerned with His goodness and gifts. The 

1 Ibid. , p. 118 . 

2 Infra, pp . 214-215^ etc. 


61ite representing this level of ma* rif ah are perhaps 
the ‘ ulama * 

The third and highest degree of ma* rif ah is 
characterized by intimacy and conversation with God. 
This group is representated by the §ufls (‘arifs), the 
dlite of the 41ite. This degree of ma* rif ah is a 
special gift of God which He has granted as a favour 
to His friends.^ 

v) Abu Yazld's Use of * Ubudiyyah (Servanthood) in a 
Specific Sense and the Distinction between * Ibid . 
Zahid, ‘Slim and * Srif 

Abu Yazid's idea of the degrees of ma* rif ah 

■^Infra, pp . 218-220 ,etc . 


In another tradition we also find that Abu Yazid 
distinguished between three levels of ma*rifah . 

The people of ma* rif ah with God, the Most High, 
are on three levels . One group seeks God, may He 
be exalted and glorified, because of their heed- 
lessness towards Him; another group runs away from 
God, may He be praised, because of their weaimess 
(to approach) Him, and the third group stands ( waqaffi) 
(at a stage^ where they neither seek nor run away 
from Him ( Nur , p. 79* Var.. ibid., pp. 104 and 106). 

Perhaps all these three groups represent §ufls at diffe- 
rent levels: for, Abu Yazid calls them people of _ } 
ma*rif ah . The first group may represent hope (raja ) 
and intimacy ( uns) , while the second fear ( khawf ) and 
awe ( haybah ) ; but the third, the most perfect , has 
neither. It is interesting to notice Abu Yazld's use 
of waqafa . In jurisprudence ( fiqh) tawaqquf means a 
judgement which is neither positive nor negative. 


brings us to the question of his distinction between 
4 ibid , zahid , 4 alim and 4 arif . 1 It seems that he used 
* ubudiyyah (servanthood) in two senses. In one sense, 
he applied it specifically to a worshipper ( * abid) as 
distinguished from a zahid , 4 alim and 4 arif ; and in 
another sense he used it to refer to all men. The 
latter is the general sense of 4 abid meaning man. Let 
us first see the meaning of 4 ubudiyyah in the specific 

An 4 abid, according to Abu Yazld, is concerned 
about his sins^ and he worships God for the sake of 
reward from Him; "he looks at God's blessing (minnah) 
on him in worship more than at his worship, so that 
his worship is drowned in the blessing."^ But his obe— 
dience leaves much to be desired. Hence Abu Yazid 
said, "Repentance for disobedience is one, while 

■^In his Al-I sharste. waaM? anbxhat , Ibn Slna ,in a t _ 
later period^ discusses the distinction between an abid , 
zahid and 4 arif a tfsharifc. wa al-Tanbihat , commentary by 
Naglr al-Din al-lfCs! [Egypt: DSr al-Ma arif, 1958], 
pp. 789-852). 

%ur , p. 122. 

^Ibid. , p. 82. 

^ Ibid . , pp. 85 j 105-106 and 144; Hilyah , X, 58; 
Kawlkib , p. 247. 


repentance for obedience is one thousand." 1 The ‘abid 
is proud of what he does and this separates him from 


God. That is, his worship itself constitutes a veil 
between him and God. 

The zahid on the other hand, is concerned with 
God alone; he has risen above the level of the ‘ abid 
who is concerned with reward. The zahid "glances at 
God once and remains with Him; he does not turn his 
attention to anything else."^ This is the case in 
spite of the fact that when he sees God, he experiences 
fear of God.^ 

The stage of a zahid is still lower than that 
of an 4 arif . Both the ‘ abid and the zahi d experience 
fear of God; but the ‘arif is not delighted by any- 
thing at all, nor does he stand in fear of anything. 

Abu Yazld compared the zahid with a pedestrian who 
walks on earth and an * arif with a bird which flies 

1 Tadhkirat . I, 161. 

2 Nur, p. 122. 

5 Ibid., p. 82. 

4 Ibid., p. 1J6. 

3 gilyah , X, 39. 


in the air.^- That is, the zahid is still concerned 
with the world, at least with the renunciation of it, 
whereas the * arif is concerned with the spiritual 
world, Abu Yazld said, "The zahid hopes for miracles 
in this world and stations ( maqamat) in the next, 
whereas the * arif hopes for the persistence ( baqa* ) 
of his faith (iman) in this world and forgiveness (of 
creatures^) in the next."^ Again, "The c arif 1 s con- 
cern is what he hopes for, and the zahid ' s concern is 

what he eats." 

Even man's reactions to a zahid and to an 
4 arif differ. When he sees the rigorous ascetic life 
of a zahid , he stands in awe for him; but when he goes 
away from a zahid , the latter's work appears easy to 
him. The very thought of an * arif makes a man "fear" 
him. So Abu Yazld said, "When you see the sincere 
zahid , you will stand in awe for him, and when you go 
away from him, his work ( *amal )will appear easy to you. 

^ Risalah , p. 156; Tadhkirat , I, 165. 


This is al-Sahlagi's addition. 

5 Nur, p. 151. Var. ibid ., p. 152. 

^ Hilyah , X , 57; Tabaqat (Sulaml),pp. 66 - 67 . Var. 
Nur , pp. 151 and 152. 


But you will stand in awe for the ‘arif when you see 
him and when you go away from him."' 1 * * ’ 

The 4 * * * * * arif is distinguished from the ‘abid in 
that "the ‘abid worships through (bi) the mystical 

— O 

state (isi) whereas the ‘ arif worships in (fl) bal . " 
Perhaps this means that the ‘ abid has the ecstatic 
experience only when he is in worship, whereas the 
‘ arif is all the time in ecstasy. Moreover, anyone can 
be an ‘abid, although, according to Abu Yazld, all 
need to seek God's help in worship.^ But bearing of 


ma* rif ah is possible only for special burden-bearers. 
As Abu Yazld said, "God is informed of the hearts of 
His friends ( awliya * ) . Some of them are not fit for 
bearing the burden of ma*rifah . So He engages them 
with ‘ ubudiyyah . 11 ^ Thus an ‘ arif is far superior to 

1 Nur, p. 136; gilyah , X, 39* 

^Nur, p. 79* Var. ibid , p. 130; Tabaqat (Sulami) , 

p. 62. 

^ Mir* at , p. 166; Tabaqat (Sulami), p. 62. 

^ Supra , p . 209 • 

^Nur , p. 135; Tadhkirat , I, 164; gilyah , X, 39. 

It is interesting to note that those unfit for 

ma‘rifah and thus engaged in ‘ ubudiyyah are also 

awliys^ T 


an abid . In fact, Abu Yazid said that "the hypocrisy 
&n arif is better than the sincerity of a novice 
( murid ) . Probably Abu Yazid regarded a mnT»Tri as an 
* abid and a shaykh as an * arif . 

In Abu Yazid' s distinction of an * arif from 
an alim, we find the common attitude of §ufl opposi- 
tion to the learned class. According to him, the * alim 
possesses exoteric knowledge whereas the * arif is 
endowed with inner knowledge which is ‘ilm in ‘ilm. 2 
* Irif 1 s knowledge comes from God, the Living; but the 
slim receives his knowledge from the dead authors 
and narrators. If the t arif speaks "from" God, the 
‘alim speaks "about" God.^ Referring to the ulama * Abu 
Yazid said, "Poor people, dead men took (knowledge) 
from dead men, but I have taken my knowledge from the 
Living who never dies'."^ Abu Yazid further said that 
the ‘ arif is above what he says whereas the ‘ slim 

1 Tadhkirat , I, 165. 

The ‘ abid is concerned about his sins and of the 
pride of his actions ( supra . on.2l4-?15) . but the ‘arif is 
never joyful about anything, nor is' he ever concerned about 
anything (Nur, p. 122). 

%ur, p. 54. 

^Tadhkirat . I, 170; Kawakib, p. 246. 

^Nur, p. 77 • 


is below what he says.^ Perhaps this means that the 
‘alim knows much less than what he says he does, while 
the case of the 1 2 * 4 * 6 arif is its opposite, or that the 
4 alim acts much less than he speaks while the 4 arif 
does its opposite. The 4 arif sees his Lord whereas the 
4 alim sees himself."* The 4 arif depends on God for 
everything. Hence he asks, "How does He do?" But the 
4 alim depends on himself for his work. So he asks, 

"How shall I do?"^ The 4 arif is satisfied with nothing 

zl 5 

other than union." His reward from God is God Himselfr 

But the 4 alim is concerned with his 4 ilm . "The 4 arif 
sees the ma 4 ruf whereas the 4 alim sits with the 4 alim . 1 ^ 
According to Abu Yazld, 4 ilm is good no doubt, especial- 
ly when it is sought for the sake of instructing 

1 Ibid . , p. 130; Hilyah . X, 39. 

2 Nur, p. 130; Hilyah . X, 39. 

5 Tadhkirat, I, 163. 

According to one tradition, for thirty years Abu 
Yazld asked God to give him something or to do some- 
thing for him, but when he reached the first stage of 
ma 4 rifah, he said, "God! Be for me and do whatever You 
TiKeT ir Tlbid. . p. 159). 

^ Ibid . , p. 165. 

^ Hilyah , X, 39. 

6 Tadhkirat , I, 163. 


others but ma 4 rif ah is far better. In *ilm there is 


life, but ma 4 rif ah gives repose to the * arif . 

Although the stage of an 4 arif is very high, 
Abu Yazld was not satisfied with ma 4 rifah . He did not 
want to be an 4 arif , nor an 4 abid nor a zahid : for, 
the most veiled, said he, are the 4 arif by ma 4 rif ah . 
the 4 abid by 4 ibidah and the zahid by zuhd . He prayed 
to God saying, "Oh God I do not make me an 4 alim . nor 
a zahid , nor a close companion ( mutaqarrib ) . If you 
qualify me with anything, qualify me with some of Your 
things", i.e., qualify me -with Your secrets and reali- 
ties (maVanl).^ 

^Nur, p. 135; Mir* at, p. 166; Hilyah, X, 38; 
TabaqaF " ( SulamI ) \ p. 63 . 

^ Tadhkirat , I, 166. 

In one tradition we find Abu Yazld speaking of 
the domination of the Self ( nafs ) , of the Soul ( rub) 
and of ma 4 rif ah on individuals and the consequences 
this leads to. He said, "The Self looks at the world, 
the soul at the hereafter and ma 4 rif ah at the Lord 
( mawla ) . Whosoever is overcome by his Self is destroyed, 
whosoever is overcome by his soul is a struggler 
( mu,jtahid ) , and whosoever is overcome by his ma 4 rif ah 
is righteous ( muttaqin ) " (Nur, p. 146). 

^ Nur , pp. 53-54. 

The explanation of "some of Your things" is al- 
Sahlagx' s. 


vi) 4 Ubudiyyah used in a General Sense and the Degrees 

of 4 Ubudiyyah 

Thus far we have used t ubudiyyah in a specific 
sense and designated its possessor as an 4 abid as dis- 
tinguished from a zahid, an ‘alim and an 4 arif . But 
just as Abu Yazld spoke of ma 4 rif ah in a general sense 
and called everyone from an 4 abid to a §ufl an 4 arif , 
so he spoke of 4 ubudiyyah in a general sense and 
designated all mankind as 4 abidun (pi. of 4 abid ) . 

4 Ubudiyyah , said Abu Yazld, progresses on three 
levels: general ( 4 amm), special ( khass) and special of 
the sepcial ( khass al-khass ) . General 4 ubudiyyah has 
five aspects ( aw.iuh ) : The first aspect is represented 
by those who are sinful and deceived by the world; 
they do not respond to the promise and threat of God 
in the Qur’an. Concerned with this world, they are for- 
getful of the hereafter. The second aspect is repre- 
sented by those who are hypocritical in their deeds, 
for they seek praise, glory, etc. through their worship. 
They are satisfied with the world instead of with the 
hereafter.'*' The third aspect is represented by those 

■*"Abu Yazld once said, “God said to the infidel, 
'Believe (in God)! ' , to the hypocrite, 'Be sincere i' to 
the sinner, 'Come back (to the right path) l ' , to the 
lover, 'Be satisfied'.' and to the 4 arif , 'Seel'" 

(Nur> p . 97). 


who sincerely act according to the Qur’an and the 
sunnah of the Prophet and thus deserve praise from God 
and His creatures . The fourth aspect is represented by 
those who, in addition to the performance of obligatory 
duties to God, do a great number of voluntary acts of 
piety. They sell the world for the hereafter and are 
in search of reward from God. The fifth aspect is re- 
presented by those who fight against the enemy, the 
Self, seeking to break it and force it on the right 
path until God gives His support to overcome it. 

Special servanthood also has five aspects. The 
first aspect is represented by those who approach God 
with the heart and escape from creatures to Him. The 
second aspect is represented by those who, out of fear 
of God, are abstinent, hopeful and acceptable to God. 
They are truthful and thankful to God for His bles- 
sings; they enjoy God's destiny for them. The third 
aspect is represented by those who turn their atten- 
tion from the world to the hereafter and prefer recol- 
lection of God to His creatures. The fourth aspect is 
represented by those who have delegated all their 
affairs to God and are happy with all that He has 
given them. They are desirous of God's friendship and 


nearness and do not want anything other than Him. 1 

The fifth aspect of special * ubudiyyah and the 
whole third level of * ubudiyyah (special of the special) 
are missing from al-Sahlagx' s text. However, we can 
perhaps take the following saying of Abu Yazid as re- 
presenting the fifth aspect of special * ubudiyyah . 

Asked when a man fulfils the conditions of servanthood, 
Abu Yazid said, "When he has no will.... His will and 
desire and passion are included in his love for God; 
his will never proceeds to anything until he perceives 
(lit. knows) the will of God, may He be exalted and 
glorified, and His love for him in that thing."^ Per- 
haps Abu Yazid was referring to an * abid representing 
this aspect of * ubudiyyah when he said, "I wonder how 
a man who has ma* rif ah of Him (God) can worship Him";^ 
for, the distinction between the ‘abid and the ma‘ bud 
has disappeared; they have become one. Then who can 
worship whom? 

It should be noted that according to Abu Yazid, 
even at the highest state of unification in which one 

1 Ibid. , pp. 97-99. 

^Ibid. , p. 84. 

^Ibid . , p . 130 . 


is endowed with ma‘ rifah . one cannot be free from 
one's obligations to God. In other words, one can 
never come out of servanthood. Abu Yazid said, "The 
inhaling and exhaling of the ‘arif is (God's) wor- 
ship." 1 This may mean that the very basis of ma‘rifah 
is worship; just as man cannot survive without breath- 
ing, so ma‘rif ah cannot exist except on the basis of 
‘ ubudiyyah . Or, this may mean that the ‘arif is all 
the time busy with God's worship although we may not 
see him worshipping, just as a man breathes continual- 
ly although we may not be particularly aware of him 
doing so. Once when asked about the signs of the lover 
of God, Abu Yazid said that he (the lover) keeps him- 
self busy with God's service in prostration and kneel- 
ing (ruku* ) ; when he is unable to do this, he remem- 
bers and praises Him with the tongue; when he cannot 
do even this, he remembers God with the heart. As for 
the one whom God loves, he is endowed with the genero- 
sity of the oc»an, the kindness ( shafaqah ) of the sun 
and the humility of the earth. Abu Yazid said on 
another occasion that the ‘ arif never leaves the 
status of servanthood, although he becomes powerful 

1 TadJbkirat, I, 162. 

^Nur, p. 141. 


over everything."*" Again, "The ‘arif has no gaps in the 
recollection (dhikr) of God, nor is he tired of per- 
forming his duties to God, nor does he seek friendship 


with any other than Him." 

We can now ask: If the 1 2 * 4 arif is never free from 
4 ubudiyyah , how can we explain that in the state of 
tawbid , the §ufl experiences a complete identification 
with God's essence so that he cries out, "Glory be to 
me l How great is my majesty! " or that in the experience 
of ma 4 rif ah the 4 arif and the ma 4 ruf become one, or 
that Abu Yazld wondered "how a man who has ma 4 rif ah 
of Him (God) can worship Him!"^ and so on? This is the 
problem of Abu Yazid' s Paradoxical utterances which we 
shall discuss in the next chapter. 

1 Ibid., pp. 1Q0-101. 

2 Ibid., pp. 105 and 135. Var. Mir*at, p. 164; 

Hilyah , ]£. 39; Tabaqat (SulamI), p. 64. 

^ Supra . p. 223. 

Chapter V 


The most important aspect of Abu Yazld's 
thought is his mystical paradoxes. 1 * * It is for these 
paradoxes, more than for anything else, that he is so 
famous. The very mention of Abu Yazld's name at once 
calls to mind his paradoxical utterances such as "By 


God! My banner is greater than Muhammad's, "Glory be 
to me l How great is my majesty! "Indeed, my grip is 
stronger than His (God's)",* 1 ’ etc. These are called 

1 This aspect of Abu Yazld is so important and one 
can say so much about it that it alone could serve as 
the topic of a doctoral dissertation. 

The Greek word 'paradox' means that which is out- 
side or seemingly contradictory to helief (para- outside, 
and doxy- belief) . Paradox, then, is that which is un- 
conventional and unexpected and, therefore, shocking. 

Here, fo] lowing the lead of Corbin (Introduction to 
Sha^hlygt, , £.7),. we are calling it 'mystical paradox' 
because in §uflsm it is the expression of an ecstatic 
experience. It is true that sometimes these utterances 
may have been made in a matter-of-fact manner, but their 
origin must have been in an ecstatic experience of the 
§ufi in the past. For an example of this, infra «p p « 24Q-241 . 

^Nur, p. Ill; Shathlyat . p. 132. 

5 Kashf, 527; Tadhkirat , I, 140. Var. Nur, pp. 78 
and 11 ; Luma 4 5 , p. 39 6; Shathlyat , p. 89. 

^Nur , p. Ill; Shathlyat , p. 129. 



shat aba t (or shathiyat , sing* shath ) 1 * in Arabic. 
Before we proceed with a discussion of these paradoxi- 
cal statements of Abu Yazld, let us consider what 
shath means. 

1. Meaning of Shath 

Al-Sarraj defines shath as "an expression of 
the tongue resulting from an ecstasy ( wand) which over- 
flows its source ( ma* din ) and is connected with a pre- 


tension ( da* wa) ." An analysis of this definition 
shows that there are several ideas contained in it. 
First, there is the idea of motion. In fact, al-Sarraj 
tells us that literally shath means movement; hence 
one says shat aha , yashtabu of something that moves. 3 
But shath does not imply an ordinary kind of motion; 
it refers to a severe motion which shakes an object 

■'’This is the term under which §ufl writers (e.g., 
al-Sarraj and Baqll) have classified the paradoxical 
utterance of the §ufls. 

^Luma * , p. 546. 

3 Ibid., p. 375. 

Corbin rightly says that dictionaries are too dis- 
creet about the word sha^b (Introduction to Shathiyat , 
p. 7). According to Massxgnon, it is "probably a 
Syrian loan-word" ( 'Shath ' 1 , E.I., IV; I, 335). 

violently. The second idea contained in the definition, 
then, is that the violent movement of the object results 
in an overflow. A bakery where flour is processed is 
called mishtab because there is in it a great deal of 
motion caused by the kneading of the flour and the 
consequent overflowing of it A third idea contained 
in the definition is that of an agent which is respon- 
sible for the motion and the overflow. A fourth idea 
in the definition is that of a pretension ( da* wa) 
behind the overflow. The third and the fourth ideas 
will become more clear in the following discussion . 

If we apply all these ideas to the shath of a 
§ufl, the result stands like this: It is the $ufi's 
heart (his mishtah ) which is moved; it is his ex- 
perience of intense ecstasy in the state of tawbld 
which moves the heart violently; the overflow resulting 
from the violent movement of the heart is the utte- 
rances of the $ufls tongue, and the misleading aspect 
of an utterance refers to the fact that its surface 
meaning is strange 2 and incomprehensible to the 
ordinary Muslims , while its real and inner meaning is 

^ Luma * , p. 575* 

2 Ibid. 


understandable only to the adept. ^ Al-Sarraj compares 
the shath of a §ufl to the overflow of floodwaters 
which rush down a river bed too narrow to accommodate 
the flow. * 2 

We should mention in this connection that 
although shath means all this, usually it is used to 
refer to the effects of the experience rather than to 
the conditions leading to them. In other words, by 
shath one usually means the strange utterance of a 
§ufl and not the movement of the heart or the ecstatic 
experience which accounts for the utterance. 

2. The Paradoxical Nature of Abu Yazld's Thought 

We find that paradoxes lie at the very heart 
of Abu Yazld's teachings. On the one hand, we find 
him a very devoted Muslim acting according to the 
rules of Shari* ah ; on the other hand, he uttered state- 
ments and did things which ran contrary to Shari* ah . 
Let us now elaborate these two aspects more fully. 

■^This is strictly our application of al-Sarraj ' s 
ideas to shath . 

2 Luma * , p. 376» 

i) The Orthodox Aspect 

Abu Yazld acted according to the commands and 
prohibitions of Shari* ah : for, according to him, no 
one can reach God except through adherence to the Law. 1 
God commands man to serve Him. So Abu Yazld spent his 
days fasting and his nights praying.^ He put his body 
to God's service in such a way that whenever one limb 
got tired, he used another.^ God prohibits eating of 
forbidden food. Hence we find him extremely conscien- 
tious about eating permissible food.** Abu Yazld said, 

"One who abandons reciting the Qur’an, performing 

prayer in congregation, attending funerals and visit- 
ing the sick, and yet claims this position (of a §ufl) 
is a pretender."^ The following story demonstrates 

1 Tadhkirat . I, 166. 

^ Supra, pp. 149-150. 

^ Supra , p . 150 . 

4 Supra . n>. 85-86. 


The Arabic word used here is taqashshuf which 
literally means living the life of an ascetic . But by 
this Abu Yazid perhaps meant the performance of prayer i 
Badawi also suggests this interpretation (Nur, p. 94, 


Abu Yazid' s extreme reverence for Shari* ah . Once he 
went to see someone who had become famous as a saint 
( wall ) . But the moment he saw him spitting in the direc- 
tion of the Ka‘bah, he returned, with the remark, "This 
man is not reliable concerning the matters (lit. 
manners) of Shari* ah . So how can he be trusted in what 
he claims (of sainthood)?”^ All this shows that a §ufl, 
must, first of all, be a good Muslim, i.e., act accord- 
ing to Shari* ah . Whatever the additional qualities of 
a §ufl may be, his life must be founded on Shari* ah . 

The §ufl, said Abu Yazid, "is the one who takes the 
Book of God by the right hand and the sunnah of His 

•'' Mir * at , pp. 162-165. Var. Luma * , pp. 105-104; Nur, 
p. 65: Risalah , p. 15; Tadhkirat , 1 , 156. 

Once when someone said to_Abu Yazid, "People say 
that the shahadah La ilaha ilia Allah is the key to 
Paradise”, he replied, 

They are right, but a key does not open anything^ 
other than a lock. The lock of La ilaha Ilia Allah 
is four things: a tongue without lies and speaking 
ill of others, a heart without deception and trea- 
chery, a stomach without forbidden and doubtful 
things, and action without passion and innovation 
(Nur, pp. 85-86). ‘A^ar tells us that Abu Yazid never 
spat on the way between his house and the mosque out 
of respect for the mosque (Tadhkirat, I, 156). 

Cf. also Abu Yazid' s saying on the relationship 
between .miracles and the observance of the rules of 
Shari* ah ( supra , pp . 118-119) • 


Prophet by the left hand..."'*’ At a later period, Al- 
Junayd succinctly puts this idea thus, "Our knowledge 
(* ilm ) is bound up with the Traditions of the Prophet.'^ 

As a corollary to his reverence for Sharjah , 

Abu Yazid had a tremendous respect for the Prophet. 

When asked whether anyone could exceed Muhammad, he 

replied, "Can anyone be his equal? Once he said, "I 

was drowned in the sea of ma* rif ah until I reached the 

sea of Muljammad, may God bless him and give him peace. 

Then I saw that between me and him there were one 

thousand stages. Had I approached one of them, I would 

4 - 

have been burnt." Abu Yazid considered "the end of 
the §ufls ( aiddlqun ) as the beginning of the states 
( afrwal ) of the prophets."^ According to him, all of 
the miracles given to the saints were like a drop in 

^Nur, p. 96. 

Abu Yazid defined §uflsm as "throwing the Self in 
servanthood, attaching the heart to lordship, practising 
high morality and concentrating one's attention to God 
completely" (ibid., p. 107). 

^ Luma * , p. 103. 

5 Ibid., p. 408. 

4 _ 

Nur., p. 66. 

^Ibid. ,p. 74. 


a bucket of honey when compared to the miracles given 
to a single prophet . ^ 

Abu Yazld's sense of awe before God was so 
great that sometimes he failed to raise his hands in 
prayer for the takblr and his shoulders moved so vio- 
lently that one could hear the crackling sound of his 
bones. Once when the preacher ( khatib ) of a mosque 
recited the verse, "And they do not make a proper esti- 
mate of the power of God..." Abu Yazid hit the pul- 


pit and blood came out of his eyes. On hearing from 
a man that he was a care-taker of donkeys (kharbandeh), 
Abu Yazid wished that the man's donkeys would die and 

1 Supra . pp . 119-120. 

^ Mir’at , p. 161; Nafabat , p. 37; Tabaqat (An§ari), 
p. 90. 

^Qur’an, 6:91* 

4 _ 

Mur , p. 110. 

Abu Yazid is believed to have rinsed his mouth 
and cleansed his tongue before mentioning ( dhikr) the 
name of God (ibid., p. 106; Mir * at , p. 164; Tadhkirat , 
I, 142). We are also told that be urinated blood at 
the mentioning of His name (Nur, p. 126; Kawakib « 
p. 245). He stood in front of God very humbly _as if 
he were a Magian willing to cut his zunnar ( Nur . 

p. 126). 


that the man would become a servant ( bandeh) of God.^ 

Abu Yazld was very conscious of the short- 


comings of his acts of worship. He said, "If one utte- 
rance of the formula 'There is no god but God' were 
pure, I would not have cared for anything after that."^ 

The greatest reward on the Day of Judgement would be 


to have God address him as servant. When asked by 
someone when a man reaches God, Abu Yazld replied, "Oh 
poor manl does anyone ever reach Him? If an atom of 
Him were manifested to the creation, neither the uni- 
verse nor what it contains would have remained any 

1 Nir * at . p. 167. 

As the §ufis and $ufl authors often do, Abu Yazld 
was here playing on the double meaning of the word 
bandeh . Kharbandeh is the one who takes care of don- 
keys, whereas Khudabandeh is the servant of God. Abu 
Yazld said to the man that he should become a Khuda- 
bandeh because it is not suitable for one to be a 
kharbandeh . 

^Nur, pp. 85, 106 and 144; Bilyah , X, 36. 

^ Supra . p . 88 . 


Supra , p. 159. 

^Nur, p. 84. 


ii) The Paradoxical Aspect 

We have seen that Abu Yazid identified with 
what might be called an "orthodox" position in the 
Islamic tradition. But there is a paradoxical side to 
Abu Yazid. Some of his sayings seemingly contradict an 
"orthodox" position. Aljmad Ibn 9arb (23^/848) sent Abu 
Yazid a rug on which he could perform his night prayers. 
Abu Yazid sent Ibn §arb the following message: "I have 
gathered all the worship of the people of seven heavens 
and earths, put it into a pillow and placed it under 
my cheek. "' L Abu Yazid also made such utterances as, 
"Glory be to mel How great is my majestyl",^ "By Godl 
My banner is greater than Muhammad' s",^ "Indeed, my 
grip is stronger than His (God's)",* 1 ’ etc. These are 
representative of his paradoxical sayings. 

3. Explanation of his Paradoxical Sayings 

How can we explain these paradoxes? One might 
be tempted to associate these paradoxical sayings with 

1 Ibid., p. 133. 

Supra , p. 226. 

^ Supra , p. 226. 


Supra , p. 226. 


a second stage in the development of Abu Tazid's per- 
sonality. Thus, in an earlier stage, he was a devoted 
orthodox Muslim and acted strictly according to 
Shari* ah , but at a later stage he became a §ufl and 
said things which appear to contradict those of an 
earlier stage. 

In answer to this, we may say that although we 
have no way of determining when exactly Abu Yazid 
uttered the paradoxical statements, we can safely 
assume that they belong to a period some thirty years 
prior to his death. 1 But most of his sayings and 
actions which conform to Shari* ah also belonged to 
this period. In fact we find him acting according to 
the principles of the Law right up to his death. He 
said, n I never left (my) obligatory duties ( fard ) in 


my life". We have every reason to believe that he 
performed the evening prayer on the night he died.*' 
Before his death, he felt so ashamed of the inadequacy 
of the acts of worship which he had performed through- 
out his life that he addressed God very humbly, saying, 

^•Por the basis of this assumption, supra , p. 93, n. 3. 

^ Nur , p. 115 • 

^ Supra , p. 120. 


... Right now I am coming from the desert crying 
Tangri, TangrI . Only now I am learning to say 
'Allah', 'Allah'} only now I am cutting the Magian 
girdle ; only now X step into the circle of Is! 15 
only now I move my tongue with the attestation of 
faith (shahadah) 

This being the case, one cannot say that the 
two distinct aspects to Abu Yazld's sayings represent 
two distinct stages in development. From our point of 
view, the paradoxical nature of Abu Yazld' s s yings 
represent two different states of mind which existed 
simultaneously. Sometimes his heart was seized and he 
was intoxicated with ecstasy. The ecstasy was so strong 
that his heart trembled and he burst forth with mysti- 
cal utterances. These emotional statements constitute 
his paradoxical utterances. But the state of intoxica- 
tion (sukr) was only temporary. Soon afterwards, he 
would return to the state of sobriety (gabw) and 
would behave like an orthodox Muslim. In fact, some- 
times, after he returned to the state of sobriety, he 
could not believe that he had made those extreme 
utterances in the state of intoxication. The following 
tradition strongly supports our interpretation: 

Once he (Abu Yazld) was in intimate friendship with 

God ( khalwa ) . (In this state) his tongue had 

•^ Supra . pp. 88-89* 


uttered the words, "Glory be to mel How great is 
my majesty l" When he returned to himself, his dis- 
ciples told him that his tongue uttered such 
words. He said, "May your God be my enemy and may 
your Abu Yazld be my enemy. ^ If I utter this kind 
of words (again), cut me into pieces." Then he 

gave each of them a knife, saying, "If such words 


come to me again, strike me with these knives". 

Abu Yazld did utter this kind of words again, but his 
disciples did not carry out his orders.^ 

One may now ask how it was possible for Abu 
Yazld to perform his duties to God when he was in a 

*hphis is a kind of oath. 

2 Tadhkirat , I, 140. Var. Jalal al-Dln RumI, Mathnawl. 
ed. R.A. Nicholson (London: Luzac & Co., 1929), iV, 

There is another tradition according to which some 
people came to visit Abu Yazld, saw him in a state 
of ecstasy, excused him and went away: on them fell 
God's mercy; but others came to visit him, saw him in 
that condition, blamed him and left his place: on 
them fell God's curse (Nur, p. 107). This again shows 
that sometimes Abu Yazld was intoxicated with ecstasy, 
but at other times, e.g., when he made the above state- 
ment, he was sober. It further shows that Abu Yazld 
was conscious of the fact that the state of drunkenness 
is not viewed as permissible from the_orthodox point of 
view. Nevertheless, he thought that §ufls deserved not 
to be blamed but to be forgiven for this. 

^Tadhkirat, I, 140. 


state of intoxication . As an answer to this, we are 
told that he used to remain in the state of intoxica- 
tion only until the time of prayer. At that time he 
would become sober, perform his prayer and then he 
would return to the intoxicated state.** - In the §ufl 
view, this is made possible by God's initiative. In 
this state of intoxication, the §ufl is in the hands 
of God and He sees to it that the duties of Islam are 
observed; God becomes the disposer of all his acts. 
This, says al-Kalabadhl, is what is called infallibi- 
lity Cigmah) and this is the meaning of the Prophetic 
Tradition, "God has said, 'When My servant draws ever 
nearer to me by performing works of supererogation, 
then do I begin to love him; and once I have started 
to love him, I have become his hearing by which he 

p _ 

hears and his sight with which he sees.'" Abu Yazld 
himself addresses God, saying, "You have specified 
some people, honoured them and enabled them to perform 
Your commands; they did not do this except through You. 
Your mercy on them was before their obedience to You."^ 

^•Kashf, p. 331. 

2 Ta* arruf . p. 123. 

The edition of al-Ta* arruf which we have been usdng 
does not give the full text o'f_this Tradition. We are 
quoting it from al-Junayd ( Rasa’il , p. 33). 

^Nur, p. 100. 


We should mention in this connection that the 
strange paradoxical utterances of Abu YazXd were not 
always the immediate expression of an experience of 
intense ecstasy. Once, for example, while he was 
passing by a certain town on his way to Mecca, a large 
number of people followed him. Having been informed 
that these people were seeking his company, Abu Yazld, 
after the performance of his dawn prayer, turned to 
them and said "Verily I am God; there is no god but I; 
so worship me l" On hearing this, they turned their 
backs on him and left with the remarks, "This man has 
gone mad 

As is very clear from the context, "Verily I 
am God; there is no god but I; so worship me" was not 
a direct and immediate expression out of an experience 
of ecstasy. On the other hand, we must admit that on 
some occasions similar expressions did arise out of 
ecstatic experience. The statement oust quoted was made 
in a sober moment and for a definite purpose. People's 
love and honour for him was too much for him to bear. 

1 Tadhkirat . I, 156-137. 

Again the paradoxical nature of Abu Yazld' s beha- 
viour is in evidence. He performed his worship and 
immediately after that pronounced the paradoxical 


He realized that the desire for human approval might 


receive his attention and thus veil him from God. To 
remove this veil of creatures from between him and God, 
therefore, he said things contrary to Shari* ah . In this 
way he used blame ( malamah ) as a mean for the morti- 


fication of the Self. 

Perhaps Abu Yazld was not aware what utterances 
he had made in the state of intoxication. As we have 
seen above, ^ his companions would inform him of his 
utterances when he returned to a sober state. According 
to another tradition, his companions used to memorize 


and thus preserve these utterances. Abu Yazid later 
learnt of these sayings from his followers and, being 
conscious of how radical they were, Abu Yazld may have 
used them in sober moments for the sake of incurring 

^Tadhkirat, I, 137 and 138. 

2 Supra , p p . 149-141 . 

It seems that Abu Yazld was conscious of the dan- 
ger of making paradoxical utterances. He said to his 
companion Muhammad al-Ra*I, "Do not mention our sayings 
to everyone. Leave them..." (Nur, p. 60). 

%upra , pp. 237-238. 

4 Nur, p. 109. 


4, A Discussion of al-Hu.iwIrS 1 s Characterization of 
Abu Yazld as One who Prefers Drunkenness to Sobriety 

We have discussed the Paradoxical nature of Abu 
Yazld' s thought and have seen that his radical sayings 
were usually uttered while in the psychological state 
of intoxication, although in some cases they were 
uttered while in the state of sobriety. Now, the ques- 
tion arises: Is al-HujwIrl's classification of Abu 
Yazld among the §ufls, who prefer intoxication to 
sobriety, correct? 

The term intoxication (sukr), says al-HujwIrl, 

denotes "the overcomingness of love for God, may He be 

exalted, while the term sobriety ( sabw) expresses the 

attainment of the goal (murad)."^ Accordingly, from 

his point of view, intoxication is an evil (afat) and 


therefore sobriety is preferable to intoxication. 
Intoxication, says he, "is to fancy one's self annihi- 
lated while the attributes really subsist and this is 
a veil. Sobriety, on the other hand, is the vision of 
subsistence while the attributes are annihilated; and 

L Kashf , p. 250. 
-Ibid ., p. 232. 


this is actual revelation ." 1 

According to al-Hujwirl, Abu Yazid* s mystical 
experience arose in the state of intoxication. Al— 
Hujwlrl bases this statement on the views of Yafcya b. 
Mu‘adh and of Abu Yazld which are presented in a 
correspondence which took place between the two. 

Ya&ya wrote to Abu Yazid asking him his opinion about 
"one who drinks a single drop of the ocean of love 
and becomes intoxicated." Abu Yazid sent a reply to 
this in the form of a question: "What do you say of 
one who, if all the oceans in the world were filled 
with the wine of love, would drink them all and still 
cry for more to slake his thirst ?" 2 Al-Hujwlrl thinks 
that here Abu Yazid favoured intoxication while Yaljya 
favoured sobriety, for the 

man of sobriety is he who is unable to drink even 
one drop, and the man of intoxication is he who 
drinks all and still desires more. Wine being the 
instrument of intoxication, but the enemy of sob- 
riety, intoxication demands what is homogeneous 
with itself, whereas sobriety takes no pleasure in 

1 Ibid. , p. 233, trans. Nicholson, p. 187* 

2 Supra, p . 104 . 

^Kashf , p. 233, trans Nicholson, p. 187 


In this respect, al-Hujwirl has also contrasted 
Abu Yazld and his followers with al-Junayd and his 
followers. He says, 

Abu Yazld and his followers prefer intoxication to 
sobriety. They say that sobriety involves the 
fixity and equilibrium of human attributes, which 
are the greatest veil between God and Man, whereas 
intoxication involves the destruction of human 
attributes, like foresight and choice, and the 
annihilation of a man's self-control in God, so 
that only those faculties survive in him that do 
not belong to the human genus ; and they are the 
most complete and perfect* 

Al-Junayd and his followers, on the other hand, conti- 
nues al-HujwIrl, 

prefer sobriety to intoxication. They say that 
intoxication is evil, because it involves the dis- 
turbance of one's normal state and loss of sanity 
and self-control; and inasmuch as the principle of 
all things is sought either by way of annihilation 
or subsistence, or of effacement or affirmation, 
the principle of verification cannot be attained 
unless the seeker is sane. Blindness will never 

release anyone from the bondage and corruption 

of phenomena. 

1 Ibid., p. 250 ; trans. Nicholson, p. 185* 

2 Ibid. , p. 231 ; Nicholson, p. 183. 


From al-Hujwirl 1 s point of view, Abu Yazld 
represented tbe stage of Hoses who was intoxicated, while 
al-Junayd represented the stage of Huljammad who was 
sober. He says, 

. . .Hoses was intoxicated; he could not endure the 
manifestation of one epiphany, but fell in a swoon 
(Kor. vii, 159): but our Apostle was sober; he 
beheld the same glory continuously, with ever- 
increasing consciousness, all the way from Hecca, 
until he stood at the space of two bow-lengths 
from the Divine presence (Kor. Liii, 9.).^ 

The classification of Abu Yazld among those 
who prefer intoxication to sobriety is not quite cor- 
rect. We have seen that Abu Yazld’ s thought is para- 
doxical in nature. If he preferred intoxication to 
sobriety, how can we explain that Abu Yazld, after 
having returned to the state of sobriety, asked his 
disciples to cut his throat in case of repetition of 

the paradoxical utterances that he had previously made 

p _ 

in a state of intoxication? In fact, we find in Abu 

Yazld' s thought the concept of a return to the world 

from the flight in the realm of tawbld . He said, 

■^Kashf, pp. 251-232; trans. Nicholson, p. 186. 
^Supra . pp. 237-238. 


....When he (the §u£l) is united (with God) 
through his separation (fagl), he is given know- 
ledge ( * ilm ) of the unseen of His eternity. When 
he is perfectly established, separation returns to 
separation without the removal of union and nega- 
tion of separation.^” 

This saying indicates that the whole mystical life , 
according to Abu Yazid, proceeds in three stages. The 
first is one of separation or abstraction from every- 
thing other than God. At the second stage the §ufl 
becomes united with God and receives ma 4 rif ah from 
Him. But at the third and the highest stage, the §ufl 
comes back to the world. This is the stage of union 
in separation or separation in union. The §ufl is both 
absent from and present with God and the world; he 
lives and moves in the world among creatures, but his 
heart is occupied with God. When asked of the greatest 
sign of the ‘arif , Abu Yazid said, ’’You will see him 
eating, drinking, mixing, and buying and selling with 
you, while his heart is in the angelic world (malakut) 
of holiness ( quds ) .* * 2 He said again that the 4 arif eats 
whatever food he finds, sleeps wherever he is, while 

%ur, p. 78. Var. ibid . , p. 82. 

2 Ibid. , p. 145. Var. Tadbkirat, I, 168. 

he is occupied only with God«^ Since he has come back 
to the world with a mystical illumination, the §ufl 
sees things in a different light: he sees them in the 
light of God. Abu Yazld said, I "Knew" God through 
God while I knew what is other than God through the 
light of God." * 2 

Al-Hujwlrl is fond of classifying §ufls. As 
an historian of §uflsm, he has in his mind a divisional 
scheme and he tries to fit everyone in that scheme. 
Moreover, al— Hujwlrl was concerned with the defence of 
§uflsm in the eyes of orthodox Muslims. Perhaps this 
led him to show the superiority of the state of 
sobriety which, according to him, was represented by 
al-Junayd, to that of intoxication represented by Abu 
Yazld; for, the teachings of al-Junayd were much more 
acceptable to the orthodox Muslims than those of Abu 
Yazid. Al-Hujwiri also makes his own agreement with 
al-Junayd' s position very clear. He says, 

My Shaykh, who followed the doctrine of Junayd, 
used to say that intoxication is the playground 
of children, but sobriety is the death-field of 
men. I say, in agreement with my Shaykh, that 

^ Kawakib . 245. 

2 Nur, pp. 129 and 135; Hilyah , X, 37; Tabaqat 
(SulaiTJ* P» 64. Var. Nur, p. 129. 


the perfection of the state of the intoxicated man 
is sobriety, 1 

It is clear from this that al-HujwIrl ' s classification 
of Abu Yazld as an intoxicated §ufi and al-Junayd as a 
sober one tells us more about al-HujwIrl than it does 
about those of whom al-Hujwirl speaks. 

We must say, nevertheless, that at least in 
one sense al-HujwIrl is right. In Abu Yazld, the over- 
flowing of the heart caused by an intense experience 
of ecstasy ran uncontrolled. He let the tongue express 
freely what he felt. He did not, and perhaps could 
not, build a "dam" to contain the enormous outbursts 
of the heart. Al-Junayd, on the other hand, could and 
did control this experience. So, Abu Yazld was dominated 
by the experience of intoxication while al-Junayd was 
dominated by that of sobriety. Perhaps in this sense 
al-HujwIrl is right in saying that Abu Yazld preferred 
intoxication to sobriety while al-Junayd did the 
opposite . 

But now the question arises: How can we account 
for the predominance of the state of intoxication in 
one §ufl and that of the state of sobriety in another? 

1 Kashf , p. 232; trans. Nicholson, p. 186. 


We can suggest two explanations for this. First, this 

may be due to the way in which the experience of 

ecstasy comes. In one case, it "may burst in sudden 

erruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms 

and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, 

to intoxicated frenzy, to transport and to ecstasy. 

Sometimes this leads one to make expressions like 


"Glory be to mel How great is my majesty!", "I am 
greater (than God)" etc. In the case of another, 
the experience may "come sweeping like a gentle tide, 
pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest 
worship."^ Such an experience suggests a state of 

Here we should make two points clear. The pre- 
dominance of the experience of intoxication or of 
sobriety in different §ufls is only relative. The ex- 
perience of ecstasy leads to the experience of intoxi- 
cation. But in one case, the degree of intoxication 

■^We are borrowing the language of R. Otto ( The Idea 
of the Holy , trans. J.W. Harvey [New York: Oxford 
University Press , 1958], pp. 12-13) . 

2 Supra, p. 226. 

|nf£a» P 

^Otto, The Idea of the Holy , p. 12. 


may be very intense, while in another case it may be 
much less so. Furthermore, the relative predominance 
of either of the states may be applied to the same 
person. On one occasion, he may be seized with an 
intense ecstasy resulting in a state of extreme intoxi- 
cation, while on another occasion the experience may 
"come sweeping like a gentle tide" with the consequent 
retention of the sober and tranquil mood. 

As a second explanation of the problem, we can 
say that we are judging the predominance of the state 
of intoxication and of sobriety from their outward 
expressions only. It is quite possible that the §ufl 
whom al-Hujwirl would call sober may actually have 
had an intense experience of ecstasy, but did not 
express it outwardly. On the basis of this supposition, 
we may ask: How is it that one §ufl did not and perhaps 
could not control the violent tide of his experience, 
while another succeeded in doing so?** - 

^Abu Sa 4 Id b. al-A 4 rabI, a disciple of al-Junayd, 
speaks of two kinds of ecstatic experiences — one which 
makes man silent and another which compels him to mo- 
tion. The latter, according to him, is better than the 
former ( Luma 4 , p. 508). 

There is a similar problem in connection with sama 4 
(audition). Some people move at the time of sama 4 while 
others do not ( Ta t arruf . p. 161). Once, for example, a 
group of $ufis at al-Junayd' s house were dancing_and 
shouting as a result of excitement_caused by sama 4 , 
while al-Junayd remained calm (Risalah, p. 57) • 


In explanation of this difference, we may 
suggest several reasons. It might be due to the diffe- 
rences in the strength of intellect of different §ufls. 
One may have had a weak intellect incapable of control- 
ling the experience, but another a strong intellect 
enabling him to control it successfully. Or, it might 
be due to the fact that one $ufl had no guidance before 
him to keep him within acceptable limits and to warn 
him of the evil consequences of transgressing the 
limits. This was certainly the case with Abu Yazld. 

Since he was the pioneer with respect to mystical para- 
doxes, there was no one before him to guide him. Al- 
Junayd, on the other hand, had Abu Yazld and other 
$ufls to guide him. There may be another factor which 
may explain why some controlled their experience and 
others did not. We have in mind the different circums- 
tances in which men live. The religious and political 
environment of Abu Yazld was different from that of al- 
Junayd. The former was much more free than the latter 
so that Abu Yazld could say things without much hindrance, 
while al-Junayd's environment did not permit him to do 
this. We shall discuss this point more fully later. ^ 

^Infra , p p . 276-282 ? etc. 


5. The Levels of Abu Yazid' s Paradoxical Utterances 

We have mentioned previously that the degree 
of the intensity of the experience of intoxication may 
vary in the same person from one occasion to another. 

We think that this was really the case in the experience 
of Abu Yazld. The experience of intoxication seized 
him on different occasions in different degrees of 
intensity. Hence, his paradoxical utterances also 
differed from each other in respect to their unconven- 
tional, strange and shocking character; for^the para- 
doxes are merely the expressions of the experience 
of intoxication. That is, we think that some paradoxi- 
cal utterances are more radical than others depending 
on the degree of the intensity of the experience. The 
following is an attempt to classify Abu Yazld* s para- 
doxical utterances in relation to the intensity of 

We want to make a few remarks before we pro- 
ceed to the classification. We should remember that 
Abu Yazid did not himself classify his paradoxes. It 
is quite possible that he would not even have knwon 
the meaning of the word shatb by which later §ufi 
writers have designated his strange utterances. The 
following is our own classification of Abu Yazid' s 


paradoxes based on our understanding of them. Moreover, 
we do not claim this classification to be exhaustive 
although most of his paradoxes fit into one of the 
categories which we have used. Further, in our classi- 
fication, we begin with the paradoxes which, from our 
point of view, represent the lowest level and then 
gradually proceed on an ascending scale until we reach 
those which belong to the highest level. One must not 
get the impression that this procedure follows a chro- 
nological sequence which can be traced in the mystical 
experience of Abu Yazld, i.e., that Abu Yazid started 
with the paradoxes of the lowest level and then, as 
time went on, he uttered statements which became more 
and more paradoxical. In fact, the paradoxical state- 
ments belonging to the highest level could very well 
have been made before those belonging to the lowest. 

i) The First Level: the Interiorization of the Rites 
of Islam 

At the lowest level stand Abu Yazid' s sayings 
and deeds concerning the interiorization of the rites 
and practices which are obligatory on a Muslim.^ - We 

^According to Abu Yazid, it is the sincerity of 
intentions which counts rather than the formal rites 
and rituals. Someone once asked him about the gesture 
of raising hands in prayer for takblr . Abu Yazid said, 

254 - 

shall take the example of pilgrimage. God orders man 
to perform pilgrimage to the Ka*bah. In compliance 
with this order, Abu Yazid performed pilgrimage at 
least once. But to him the meaning of pilgrimage is 

"This is a practice which goes back to the Messenger of 
God, may God bless him.JBut try to raise your heartjbo 
God: this is better" (Nur, p. 115) • Another day, Abu 
Yazid decided to perform his prayer for the second time 
because he discovered that the imam (leader), behind 
whom he performed the prayer first, did not know who 
the Giver of provisions ( al-razzaq ) was ( ibid . ) . From 
his point of view, to utter the name of God or any other 
religious formula heedlessly is a sin. Once when some- 
one said, " Subban Allah " heedlessly, Abu Yazid remarked 
that it was polytheism to do so (ibid., p. 87) • On_an- 
other occasion, someone received scoldings from Abu 
Yazid because he uttered "Allah" heedlessly ( ibid . , 
p. 89). But the concentration of the heart exclusively 
on God is a very difficult task. For forty years Abu 
Yazid tried to do this but failed and found polytheism 
in his heart because it was occupied with things other 
than God ( ibid . , p. 94 -. Var. ibid . , p. 107). Neverthe- 
less^ once someone succeeds in doing this, the very 
shahadah which Muslims utter so many times a day, be- 
comes the greatest name of God. Asked about God’s _ 
greatest name,_Abu Yazid replied, "In your saying ' La 
ilaha ilia Allah ' while you are not there" ( ibid . , 
p^ 840. The tradition immediately following this in 
Kur is an exact opposite of the one cited. It says, 

" . . . while you are there". Possibly, the first refers 
to the state_of fana’ while the second refers to the 
state of baqa ’ . 

As a corollary to his emphasis on sincerity of in- 
tentions, Abu Yazid disliked any kind of hypocrisy. 
According to him, the search for knowledge ( 4 ilm ) and 
the Traditions of the Prophet, for example , is good; 
but if this is done "for one's own glorification in the 
eyes of the people, one's distance from God and His 
Messenger will increase" ( ibid . , p. 116). Abu Yazid 
was not impressed with those who pretended to be 
Qur’an readers ( mutaqarr’un ) ( ibid . , p. 95 ) • 


different from that which orthodox Islam understands 

it to be. From his point of view, one does not need to 

go to Mecca to seek God. Hence we hear a Negro, who 

met Abu Yazld on the latter's way to Mecca, urging him 

to go back to Bis-fcam and seek Him there. ^ Moreover, he 

considered other duties in life, helping the poor, for 

example, as more important than the performance of 

pilgrimage. When, on Abu Yazld' s way to Mecca, a poor 

man with a family asked Abu Yazld to give him the 

money instead of spending it on his journey to Mecca 

and then to circumambulate him (the poor man) instead 

of circumambulating the Ka*bah, Abu Yazid did as he 

_ p 

was asked and returned to Bis^am. Even when he finally 

^Nur, pp, 8J-84 and 128; Tadhkira t, p. 139* 

One may argue that orthodox Muslims also consider 
pilgrimage as a process of going to Mecca to visit 
God. Our answer is that the difference between the 
(frthodox attitude to pilgrimage_(as also to other 
rites of Islam, and to the Qur’an) and the §ufl atti- 
tude to it lies in the degree of their emphasis on the 
spiritual meaning of pilgrimage. It is true that to an 
orthodox Muslim God is present in Mecca as well as in 
Bist?am; but the realization of this will not bring him 
back to Bis^am from his way to Mecca, nor will he ex- 
perience, after circumambulating the Ka‘bah, that the 
Ka‘bah was circumambulating him ( infra , p . 256). 

^ Tadhkirat , I, 139. Var. Nur, p. 128. 

According to another tradition, when Abu Yazld 
made his fourth attempt to make pilgrimage to Mecca, 
he was informed by someone that he had left God behind 
in Bis^am ( Nur , p. 128). 


went to Mecca for pilgrimage, he did not find the 
Ka‘bab useful except as a means to meet its Owner; for, 
the Ka‘ bah is nothing but a created things As soon as 
he achieved his objective, the Ka‘bah not only lost 
all significance for him but the process of circumam- 
bulation led to an unusual experience for him* He be- 
gan by circumambulating the Ka‘bah as a Muslim is 
supposed to do, but he came to experience that the 
Ka ( bah was circumambulating him. As he said, n I was 
circumambulating the House in search of Him. But when 
I reached Him, I found the House circumambulating me." 1 
Al-Hujwiri comments on this experience with, "The 
darkest thing (in the world) is the Beloved's house 
without the Beloved." 2 

Abu Yazid was not the first person to have 
interiorized the rite of pilgrimage. Rabi‘ah al-‘ Adawdyyah 

^Nur, p. 77. Var. ibid., p. 108; Tadhkirat, I, 161. 

According to another tradition, when Abu Yazid 
went to Madinah, Mecca came there and circumambulated 
him (Nur, p. 146). 

2 Kashf, p. 424. 

We have another saying of Abu Yazid which shows 
the progress of his journey to God stage by stage. He 
said, "On my first pilgrimage, I saw the House; the 
second time I saw the Owner of the House and not the 
House (itself); the third time I saw neither the House 
nor its Owner" (Nur, p. 79. Var. Mir’at, p. 170; Kashf, 
p. 424). 


(d. 185/801), for example, said, 

I want the Lord of the House. What shall I do with 
the House? I want to approach the One who said, 
"Whosoever approaches Me by a span's length, I 
shall approach him by the length of cubit." The 
Ka‘bah that I see has no power over me. What 
happiness does the Ka‘bah bring to me?'*' 

Not too long after the time of Abu Yazld we find al- 
Junayd interiorizing not only the pilgrimage as such 
but also the physical journey to Mecca, the halting of 
the pilgrim at different stages of the journey, and 
the rituals and ceremonies connected with the pil- 
grimage. On being told by a man that he had just returned 
from pilgrimage to the Ka‘bah, al-Junayd said, 

"Prom the time when you first journeyed from your 
home have you also journeyed away from all sins?" 

He said: "No." "Then," said Junayd, "you have made 
no journey. At every stage where you halted for the 
night did you traverse a station on the way to God?" 
He said: "No." "Then," said Junayd, "you have not 
trodden the road stage by stage. When you put on 
the pilgrim's garb at the proper place did you 
discard the attributes of humanity as you cast off 
your ordinary clothes?" "No." "Then you have not 
put on the pilgrim's garb. When you stood on ‘Arafat 
did you stand one instant in contemplation of 
God?" "No." "Then you have not stood on ‘Arafat. 

•*~ Tadhkirat , I, 62. 


When you went to Nuzdalifa and achieved your 
desire did you renounce all sensual desires?” 

"No." "Then you have not gone to Nuzdalifa. When 
you circumambulated the Temple did you behold the 
immaterial beauty of God in the abode of purifica- 
tion?" "No." "Then you have not circumambulated the 
Temple. When you ran between §afa and Narwa did 
you attain to the rank of purity C saf a ) and virtue 
( muruwwat )?" "No." "Then you have not run. When 
you came to Nina did all your wishes ( munyatha) 
cease?" "No." "Then you have not yet visited Nina. 
When you reached the slaughter-place and offered 
sacrifice did you sacrifice the objects of sensual 
desire?" "No." "Then you have not sacrificed. When 
you threw the stones did you throw away whatever 
sensual thoughts were accompanying you?" "No." 
"Then you have not yet thrown the stones, and you 
have not yet performed the pilgrimage. Return and 
perform the pilgrimage in the manner which I have 
described in order that you may arrive at the 
station of Abraham.^ 

The interiorization of the pilgrimage is an 
example of the §ufls* attempt to taste the reality 
( baqlqah ) which lies behind Shari* ah . To them, Shari ‘ah 
is the body, while the reality is the spirit of 
Shari * ah . Hence they insist on passing beyond the 
husk of Shari* ah and tasting the kernel of the 

^Kashf, pp. 425-4-26; trans. Nicholson, p. 528. 


reality ( baqiqah) Dermenghem has put the idea beauti- 
fully: "Music without soul is only an empty noise, but 
music cannot be reduced to pure silence. Merely formal 
religion is for whited tombs, but religion without 


rites is impossible for incarnate spirits." 

ii) The Second Level: Paradoxes Regarding the Hereafter 

To the next higher level of Abu Yazld's para- 
doxes belong his utterances concerning the hereafter 
(akhirah) . We can divide this level into two sub- 
levels. In the first of these sub-levels are the para- 
doxes concerning the punishment of sinners. We find 
Abu Yazld challenging God for having created Hell-fire; 
for, according to him, God does not have the right to 
punish mankind because He created them without their 
knowledge and put on their shoulders the burden of 
trust ( amanah) without their consent.^ Probably Abu 
Yazid was referring to the Qur’anic verses according 
to which the earth and the mountains refused to bear 
God's trust, but man foolishly assumed it with the 

■^■Por a discussion of this, see Kashf, pp. 498-499* 


Dermenghem, Saints , p. 209* 

^Nur,_p. 152; Tabaqat (Sulami), p. 65; Hilyah , X, 
54; Tabaqat al-Kubra , p. 61. 


result that hypocrites and unbelievers will be pu- 
nished.^ - Moreover, God is described as compassionate 
( ra’uf ) and merciful ( rahinO . So, if God's creatures 
commit sin, He should forgive them all; for, if He 
does not, who will?^ Furthermore, it is very easy for 
God to forgive all creatures. Addressing God, Abu 
Yazld said, "If you forgive (mankind) beginning with 
Adam and continuing until the Day of Resurrection, You 


will forgive only a handful of clay...." 

Abu Yazld, nevertheless, was conscious of the 
fact that God will not forgive all mankind on His 
own; for, otherwise, there would be no necessity for 
Muhammad's intercession on the Day of Judgment. But 
Muhammad's intercession will be confined to the mem- 
bers of his own community, the Muslims. This was very 
disappointing to Abu Yazld. Hence he took upon himself 
the burden of interceding for the whole of mankind. 

Qur’an, 33:72-73. 

2 Nur, p. 79; Tadhkirat . I, 161. 

^Nur,_p. 132; Tabaqat (SulamS), p. 65; Bilyah . X, 
34; Tabaqat al-Kubra . p. 61. 

Cf. also Tadhkirat, I, 161. 

4 _ 

Nur, p. 80. Var. ibid., p. 79. 


When someone said that all the people^" are under the 
banner of Muhammad, Abu Yazld remarked, "By God l My 
banner is greater than Muhammad's. My banner is one of 
light under which are jinii and men of all the pro- 


phets." Accordingly, while passing by a Jewish ceme- 
tery one day, he cried out, "Excused'."^ He also offered 


himself to God as a ransom for sinners. He asked God 
to expand his body to fill Hell so that there would be 
no space left for anyone else to be with him.^ 

Abu Yazld' s attitude to intercession which we 
have been considering raises an interesting problem 
regarding the relationship of the Prophet to the saint 
( wall ) . Prom Abu Yazld' s paradoxes concerning Hell- 
fire, the Prophet appears to be a mere dwarf in com- 
parison with the gigantic figure of the saint. There 
are many other paradoxes which point in the same 
direction. Por example, after the death of a tailor, 

■^That is, the community of Muhammad. 

^Nur, p. 111. Var. Shathiyat « p. 132; Tadhkirat, 

XX , 186. 

^Luma‘ , p. 391; Shathiyat, p. 88. Var. Kawakib, 

p. 245 : 

^Nur, p. 68; Kawakib , p. 245. 

^Nur, pp. 114-115 


angels found it impossible to get any answer to their 
questions from him because during his life-time he 
once repaired Abu Yazid' s pelt and carried it on his 
shoulder to his house. 1 2 The mere sight of Abu Yazid in 
this world will save one from Hell-fire.^ If anyone 
has even heard of Abu Yazid, he will be saved. ^ There 
will be no difficulty for Abu Yazid to intercede even 
for the whole of mankind. When Ibrahim al-Harawi came 
to visit Abu Yazid, he made the following remark to 
Abu Yazid, "If He (God) had made you intercede for the 
entire creation, it would not be too much for you; it 
would be an intercession (only) for a handful of clay."^ 
But Abu Yazid did not want to approach God for the 
forgiveness of His creatures; he was too ashamed to 
ask God for such a little thing. ^ Moreover, he did not 
want to perform a function which belongs to the men of 

1 Ibid. , p. 142. 

2 - 

Tabaqat (An§arl ), p. 345 . 

5 Nur, p. 52. 

^Ibid . , p. 78; Mir* at . p. 163 . Var. Risalah. p. 189; 
Tabaqat al-Ku bra. p. 6i; Tadhkirat, I, 156; Kawikib. 

p. 250. 

^Tadhkirat . I, 156. 


Shari* ah . 1 It is the disciples of Abu Yazld who will 
stand at the gate of Hell, take by the hand everyone 
being carried to the Fire and guide him into Paradise. 2 * 4 
According to Abu Yazld, it is the love of saints which 
will bring God's forgiveness to men. Once he said to 
someone, "Love the saints of God and be friendly with 
them so that they may love you, because God looks at 
the hearts of saints seventy times a day. So, perhaps 
He will see your name in the heart of one of His 
saints and thus love you and forgive you."^ Abu Yazld 
was looking forward to the Day of Judgment because he 
would camp at the gate of the Hell-fire so that, on 
seeing Abu Yazld, its fire would be extinguished.^ - 

What is a prophet in comparision with Abu 
Yazld? Almost nothing. Once someone narrated to Abu 
Yazld the story that Abraham, Moses and Jesus prayed 
that God make them members of the community (ummah) 
of Muhammad J but in every case God refused to grant the 

1 Ibid . 


Ibid., p. 154; Nur . p. 76. 

^Nur, p. 89. Var. ibid., 76; Kawakib . p. 248. 

4 Tadhkirat, I, 153. 


prayer, saying, "I shall not do it. They 1 are a commu- 
nity of Aljmad [Muhammad]." On hearing this, Abu Tazld 
remarked to the narrator of the story, "Do you think 
that they (the prophets) had in mind your scandalous 
acts? Instead, they viewed men whose heads surpassed 
the high (heaven) and whose legs were below the lowest 
(earth), and they (the men) were lost in between."^ 
Probably, Abu Yazld was here referring to the awliva * 
of God. If so, then the awliva * would be so great that 
even prophets like Abraham, Moses and Jesus aspired to 
be in companionship with them. Moreover, according to 
Abu Yazld, a prophet wishes to see God, while God 
Himself wishes to see a saint. Abu Yazld said, "Moses, 
on whom be peace, wished to see God. But I do not wish 
to see Him; it is God who wants to see me."^ 

^he followers of Muhammad. 

2 Nur, p. 72. 

5 Ibid., p. 146. 

Abu Yazld said once. 

My soul ( rub ) was raised and it penetrated into 
the malakut (angelic world). I saluted the souls 
of the prophets whom I passed by, with the excep- 
tion of the soul of Mubammad, may God bless him 
and give him peace, because around it were one 
thousand veils of light which were about to be 
pierced at the first glance ( ibid ., p. 86). 

It seems that this saying of Abu Yazid has reference 
to the famous Tradition of the Prophet which reads as 


To the second sub-level of paradoxes concerning 
the hereafter belong Abu Yazid' s paradoxes relating 
to Paradise* At the previous stag®* Abu Yazid was con- 
scious of the intense torture of Hell-fire and was 
concerned with the salvation of all mankind from it. 

But one should not get the impression that by detesting 
Hell-fire, he desired the pleasures of Paradise coveted 
by orthodox Muslims. According to Abu Yazid, the 
servants with whom God is really pleased can never 
be interested in the Palaces of Paradise.'*' He consi- 
dered Paradise as a toy in the hands of children.^ It 

follows : "God has seventy veils of light and darkness. 
If He had removed these veils, surely the splendours of 
His Pace would burn everyone who would apprehend Him 
with his sight" (Al-Ghazzali, Mishkat, p. 59). We should 
notice, however, that the veils referred to in the 
Prophetic Tradition are those around God, while the 
veils in Abu Yazid' s saying refer to those around 

We can see here, as elsewhere, that to Abu Yazid 
Muhammad comes out superior to other prophets. Abu 
Yazid saluted the souls of all other prophets without 
requiring his glance to go through any veil, but his 
glance needed to pierce one thousand veils before it 
could reach the soul of Muhammad. But Abu Yazid was 
so great that all the veils around Muhammad were about 
to be pierced at the very first glance. Yet, Abu Yazid 
did not want to tear these veils. This may have been 
because, out of honour and respect for Muhammad, he 
did not want Muhammad to be shorn of all veils. 

1 Supra , p . 204 . 

^ Kawakib , p. 245. 


had no significance for him except as a means to the 
vision of God. If Paradise is taken as an end in itself, 
it constitutes a veil between man and God; for^ Paradise 
is certainly other than God, and anything other than 
God is a veil. But being veiled from God even for the 
twinkling of an eye is unbearable to the lover of God. 
Hence he said, "There are servants of God who, if they 
were veiled from seeing God, would cry for a way out 
of Paradise as the people of Hell cry for a way out of 
Hell." 1 

iii) The Third Level: Paradoxes Regarding the 
Identification with Beings near God 

At the third level of paradoxes, Abu Yazld 
passed beyond the stage of Hell and Heaven, and iden- 
tified himself with beings near God. On being told that 
the Protected Tablet ( al-lawb al-mabfuz ) contains 
everything, he said, "I am the whole of the Protected 
Tablet."^ According to one tradition, 

he was asked, "What is the Throne ( * arsh )?" He 
said, "It is I." "What is the Chair (kursi)?" "I." 
"What are the Tablet and the Pen?" "I." "God has 

1 Supra , pp. 157-158. 

^Nur, p. 113 . Var. ibid., p. 80. 


servants the like of Abraham, Moses and Jesus, may 
God bless them all.” "All of them are I." "God has 
servants like Gabriel, Michael and Seraphiel." 

"All of them are 1."^ 

Abu Yazld also said that he was "all seven pillars 
(awtad ) ." 1 2 3 

Although Abu Yazid identified himself with the 
Throne, the Chair, the Tablet, the Pen and those among 
mankind whom God has chosen as His dear friends, he 
was still far from God Himself because, however near 
God they may be , they are only created beings and 
therefore other than God. He still retained his crea- 
turely attributes, for identification with creatures 
cannot free one from his creaturely attributes. 

iv) The Fourth Level: Paradoxes Regarding the 
Experience of Nothingness 

Up to this level, Abu Yazld was conscious of 
things other than God. But we have seen^that the 

1 Tadhkirat, I, 171 . 

2 Nur, p. Ill; Hilyah , X, 37. 

For some other sayings on this, see Nur, p. 99* 

On awtad , see Shorter E.I .. p. 49 and E. Sell, 
Essays on Islam (Madras: 3.P.C.K. Depot, 1901), p. 109* 


Supra , pp . 185-186 • 


experience of real tawhld necessitates a complete loss 
of consciousness of the Self. This is the level repre- 
sented by Abu Yazld's utterances concerning his ex- 
periences of nothingness, of a void. God made him 
forget his Self completely, 1 2 * and he came out of it (1 he 


Self) as a snake out of its skin . ^ He said, 

I ascended to the field ( maydan) of nothingness 
Claysiyyah ) . Then I continued to fly in it for ten 
years until I passed from nothing in nothing 
through nothing. Then I ascended to loss ( tadyl 4 ) 
which is the field of tawhld . I continued to fly 
through nothing in loss until I was completely 
lost in loss, and I was lost, and was indeed lost 
even to loss through nothing in nothing in the 
loss of loss. Then I ascended to tawhld in the 
absence of creatures from the 4 arif and in the 
absence of the 4 arif from creatures. 5 

Abu Yazld's experience of nothingness, of a 
void, was only one aspect of his experience of tawhld . 
There was also a positive aspect of his experience. He 
requested God saying, "Adorn me with Your oneness 
(w abdaniyyah ) and clothe me with Your I-ness and raise 

1 Supra, pp . 168-169 . 

2 Supra, p . 176. 

^ Supra, p. 178. 

me up to Your unity ( ahadiyyah ) so that when Your 
creatures see me, they may say, 'We have seen You' and 
You will be that, and I shall not be there. We are 
told that God listened to his request and adorned him 


with His oneness. The next level of Abu Yazid's para- 
doxes, therefore, will represent his experience of 
identification with God. 

v) The Fifth Level: Paradoxes Regarding Identification 
with God 

In the positive aspect of his experience of 
tawhld , Abu Yazld experienced identification with God. 
But this level, we think, can again be divided into 
four sub-levels. At the lowest of these are the para- 
doxes in which Abu Yazld still addressed God in the 
third person. Asked about the meaning of the ma 4 rifah 
of God, he said, "There is no Truth ( baqq) except that 
I am He."^ He said, "I am my Lord, Most High."**’ 

1 Supra , pp. 192-195. 

2 Supra , p . 195. 

^Nur, p. 108. 

lL . __ 

Luma , p. 590; Nur, p. 68. 


"Indeed, there is no God but I. So worship me."'*’ "His 
friendship (wudd) is my friendship and my friendship 
is His friendship; His yearning ( 1 ishq ) is my yearning 
and my yearning is His yearning; His love is my love 


and my love is His love..." 

Obviously these paradoxes express Abu Yazld's 
experience of identification with God; but still they 
do not represent the experience of "complete" identi- 
fication with Him. Duality between him and God still 
remained; for, he talked in terms of I and He. We may 
interpret this level of Abu Yazld' s experience as 
being represented by the famous statement, "I am the 
Truth C ana al-baqq ) " , which is attributed to al- 
§allaj. In fact, we find a close similarity between 
the expression "I am the Truth C haqq )" and Abu Yazld's 
saying "There is no Truth ( baqq ) except that I am He".^ 

The sense of duality lessens in the paradoxes 
which belong to the second sub-level. For, the address 
changes from the third person to the second person. 

God said to Abu Yazid, "They are all my creatures except 

_^Luma‘ , p. 391; Nur, p. 122; Tadhkirat . I, 137; 
Kawakib , p. 231. 

^Nur, p. 109. 

^ ibid . » P« 108. 


you." Abu Yazld replied, "I am You; You are I, and I 
am You.”'*’ He addressed God, saying, 

My heart has indicated to You until 
I have been annihilated from myself and you remained* 
You have obliterated my name and the trace of my body * 
You have asked about me, and I said, "You ," 

You have made me forget my imagination ; 

So. wherever I turn. You are there . 

According to another tradition, Abu Yazld passed "from 
God to God. Then a voice said, 'The one (who has come) 
from Me in Me'. Oh you 11'"^ 

"I and "You" are still not the expression of 
a perfect unity; some amount of duality between Abu 
Yazld and God persisted in his consciousness. But at 
the third sub-level, this consciousness of duality 
disappeared so that he expressed his experience in the 
first person. He said, "Glory be to mel How great is 

^Nur, p. 119* 

Cf. ibid., pp. 102-103. 


Supra , p. 182. 

^ Supra , p . 193, n. 1. 

^The following extremely ecstatic utterance of Abu 
Yazld shows his passage from the level of addressing God 
in the third person to that of addressing Him in the first 
person: "I am not I; I am X, because I am He, I am He, 

I am He" ( Nur . p. 111). 


my m'a;j e st#*. 1,1 expression is applicable to God and 

to no one else; for, God alone can praise Himself as 
He should be praised. But Abu Yazid could say this be- 
cause he and God became one; he had reached the stage 
of the supreme ’I’ of the Divine. Hence all that was 
applicable to God was now equally applicable to Abu 
Yazid. We can take the following traditions of Abu 
Yazid as an interpretation of subhani . He said, "The 
whole matter ends with the knowledge (ma^rifah) of La 
ilaha ilia Allah . ... It ends with the knowledge of my 
praise and with the extremity of my perfection. This 
saying contains the very essence not only of Abu Yazid' s 
teachings but also of §ufism as such. The ultimate aim 
of the §ufi is to realize the meaning of the very first 
principle of Islam: "There is no god but God." But this 
realization is possible only when the §ufl becomes one 
with God. God alone can realize His oneness in perfect 
fullness. Hence, in order to praise God as He deserves, 
the §ufl needs to be one with Him. 


Supra , p. 226. 

Sometimes we shall use subhani to refer to this 
whole paradoxical statement. 

Abu Yazid' s saying "I saw that I was I; I was I" 
(Wur, p. 128)may also belong to this category of 

^Nur, p. 78. 


It seems that; Abu Yazid was not satisfied with 
an experience of identification with God as expressed 
in his famous statement subftani ; a number of his para- 
doxical utterances indicate his passage to a higher 
level of experience. When a mu’ adhdhin recited, "God 
is the greatest", Abu Yazid cried out, "I am greater 

(still)."'*’ A man came to him and recited the Qur’anic 


verse, "Indeed, God's grip ( batsh) is very strong." 

On hearing this, Abu Yazid said, "By my lifel my grip 
is stronger than His."^ Addressing God, he said, "Oh 
Lord! Your obedience to me is greater than my obedience 
to Youl"^ and addressing a man, he said, "To see me 
once is better for you than to see God a thousand 
times. We consider these paradoxes as belonging to a 
level of experience which is higher than that represented 
by subljjinl. To make the distinction between the two 
levels clear, we shall briefly describe the ideas of 

1 Shathlyat , p. 101. 

^Qur’an, 85:12. 

%ur. p. 111. 

^Quoted by Badawl ( Shatahat , p. 21) and by Massignon 
f R ecueil de textes inedits concernant 1'hi stoire de la 
mystique en pays d* Islam [Paris : Paul Gguthner, 192V J , 
p. 2QT from Lata' if al-Minan wa al-Akhlaq 

5 Ibid. 


God's oneness ( wabidiyyah) and of His unity ( ahadiyyah) 
which jwere introduced into §ufism at a later period. 

God's oneness ( wabidiyyah ) is expressed by the 
term 'Allah'. At this stage, God is a unity in multi- 
plicity; for, He comprises and unifies "names” ( asma * * ) 
and "attributes" ( sifat) . God's unity ( afradiyyah ) , on 
the other hand, is His Absolute Essence ( al-dhat al- 
mutlaq ) ; it is shorn of all "names" and "attributes" 
so that it defies all description and thinking; it is 
the unseen of the unseen ( ghayb al-ghayb ) 

Let us now apply the distinction of God's 
oneness and of His unity to Abu Yazld's paradoxes. We 
presume that subbanl represents his experience of 
identification with Allah together with His "names" 
and "attributes", while the paradoxes such as "I am 
greater (than God)" represent his identification with 
God's Absolute Essence. If this presumption is correct, 
the paradoxes of the latter kind belong to the highest 
level of Abu Yazid's experience of tawbid 

X 0n Ibn al-Arabi ' s (d. 658/1240) ideas of God's 
wabidiyyah and abadiyyah , see T. Izutsu, The Key 
Philosophical Concepts in Sufism and Taoism - Ibn al- 

* Arabi and Lao-Tzu. Chuang-~Tzu (Tokyo: The Keio Insti- 
tute of Cultural and Linguistic Studies, 1966), I, 17“ 
32, 41-60, 91 ff. etc. 

Following Prof. Izutsu, we are translating 
wabidiyyah as oneness and ahadiyyah as unity. 


6. Reactions to his Paradoxes 

Abu Yazid' s shatabat , especially his famous 
subbani , has been discussed by Muslims, including both 
§ufis and non-§ufis, from the days of Abu Yazid until 
the present. Reactions to bis shatabat have ranged 
from an outright condemnation of Abu Yazid as an infi- 
del to an exaltation of him to the status of a great 
saint. The following are a few examples of such 
reactions • 

i) Orthodox Muslims of Abu Yazid' s Time 

We have hinted previously that the ‘ ulama * of 
Bis-fcam at Abu Yazid' s time reacted to his shatabat un- 
favourably. ^ The immediate consequence of this reaction 
was his banishment from Bistam seven times. He did not, 
however, have to remain away for long periods of time; 
for, we are told that every time the Bistamis exiled 
him, they were afflicted with some type of epidemic 

disease so that, to get rid of the scourge, they were 


compelled to call him back. 

1 Supra , pp. 97-98. 

^Kawakib, p. 245. 


Now, the question is: How is it that al-gallaj, 
whose shatabat were less radical than those of Abu 
Yazld, lost his life while the latter suffered very 
little? In answer to this, we can suggest several 
factors. Al-gallaj, although of Persian origin, lived 
and taught in the city of Baghdad, the centre of the 
‘Abbaside caliphate and the stronghold of the ‘ulama* . 
His shatabat , therefore, would attract the attention 
of and disturb the religious and political authorities 
more readily than the shatabat of Abu Yazld; for, the 
latter lived in the outH^tbe-way township of Bistam in 
Khurasan which was very far from the capital. Even if, 
let us say, the central authorities were disturbed by 
Abu Yazld' s strange utterances and deeds, they could 
do little to punish him. Because of its distance from 
the capital and perhaps also because of the tempera- 
ment of its people, Khurasan was always a land of 
rebels. Prom its first conquest under the caliph 4 Umar 
(reign 13/654 — 25/644), it was hardly ever under the 
complete control of the central caliphal authorities 
for a long period of time. This is especially true of 

■^Although conquered in 22/642 during the caliphate 
of 4 Umar, it needed to be reconquered during ‘Uthman's 
reign (23/644 — 35656) • Khurasanis rebelled again when 
‘All (reign 35/656. — 40/661) and Mu‘awiyah (reign 40/ 
661 — /680) were engaged in quarrels. Although ‘All 

succeeded in supressing the uprising. _af ter his death 
Khurasan fell in disorder. Later, Mu awiyah had to send 


the period in which Abu Yazld lived the most fruitful 
years of his mystical life.^" In the year 205/820, the 

Ibn ‘ Imir, who conquered Khurasan during ‘Uthman's 
time, to reconquer it. During the whole Umayyad regime, 
with the exception of the reign of ‘Umar II (99/717 — 
102/720) , Khurasan remained a constant_source of trouKLe 
to the caliphs. It was with the KhurasanI recruits that 
Abu Muslim (d. 157/755) helped the ‘Abbasides to over- 
throw the Umayyads. After Abu Muslim was murdered by 
the caliph al-Man§ur, the KhurasanI Sindbad, the Magian 
(d. 159/756), in order to avenge the murder of Abu 
Muslim, occupied Qumis and Ray, and intended to pro- 
ceed to the |iaaz and to destroy the Ka bah (E.G. Browne, 
A Literary History of Persia [Cambridge: the University 
Press, Y956J, I, 515-514;. During the reign of Mahdl 
159/775 — 169785) arose gashim b. ?akim as al-Muqanna 
(d. 169/785), the "veiled prophet" of Khurasan. Al- 
Ma*mun (reign 198/815 — 218/855) had his brother al- 
Amln (reign 194/809— 198/815) _killed by Jahir b. al- 
gusayn who was sent from Khurasan ( Waf ayat , trans. 

Slane, Biographical Dictionary . I, 649-650) . In fact, 
until the rise of the Tahirids, the _ Abbasides were 
pi agued with various disturbances_in Khurasan. Then 
the”’ ^ahirid governors ruled Khurasan as semi-indepen- 
dent rulers from 205/820 to 259/872. Tahirld power was 
superseded by the §affarids £reign 255/867 — 287/900) 
who controlled not only Khurasan but also the most of 
Persia, even threatening Baghdad during the caliph 
Mu 1 tamid (reign 256/869—279/892). From_the §affarids, 
Khurasan passed to the hands of the Samanids in 28 7/ 

900. The Samanids ruled Khurasan under the nominal 
authority of the ‘Abbaside caliphs until Subuktlgln, 
the Ghaznawld ruler (reign 566/978 — 587/997) annexed 
it to his territory. 

1 Some thirty years of his latter life ( supra , 

P. 95 (and p. 96) , n. 1. 


(fahirids^ established a semi-independent state in 
Khurasan. Although nominally under the ‘Abbaside cali- 
phate, the !fahirids were virtually independent rulers 


of the province. Hence, the Baghdad authorities would 
have had little power to punish Abu Yazld even if they 
had wnated. 

Once can further ask: Why did the Tahirid 
rulers and the ‘ulama’ in their regime spare Abu Yazld? 
Most of the (fahirid rulers seem to have been men of 
high education and culture.^ Especially enlightened 
was ‘Abd Allah b. fahir who ruled from 213/828 to 
230/844. Very much concerned about the uplift of the 
poor peasants of the province, he rightly realized 
that the remedy lay not only in the improvement of ag- 
riculture by means of the construction of canals for 
irrigation purposes, which he did, but also in the 

On the Tahirids , see: E.I. articles "Tahirids" 

(IV: I, 614-615 ) and "‘Abd Allah b. $ahir" (new ed., I, 
52-55); Wafayat ; trans. Slane, Biographical Dictionary , 
I, 649-655 and II, 49-55; W. Barthold, Turkestan down 
to the Mongol Invasion , trans. Gibb Memorial series 
(London: Luzac & Co., 1928), pp. 207-222. 

2 E.I., IV: I, 614. 

5 Ibid. 

Significantly, some thirteen years of Tahirid rule 
falls in the reign of the caliph al-Ma’mun who is so 
well known for this patronage of learning and culture. 


spread of education among the masses. ^ Hence he adopted 
means to make education available even to the children 
of the poorest peasants. ‘Abd Allah was himself a 
musician and a poet.^ His nephew Man§ur b. $all>ah 
"wrote philosophical treatises; ‘Abd Allah called him 
the 'Wisdom of the IJahirids' and was extremely proud 
of him." We presume that it was natural for this en- 
lightened man to allow freedom of expression to his 
people in religious matters and thus to overlook what 
Abu Yazid said or did. *Abd Allah's successor, !fahir 
b. *Abd Allah, under whose regime Abu Yazid lived the 

^Barthold, Turkestan , p. 213 - 

‘Abd Allah wanted to raise the position of the 
peasants in the estimation of the Government officials. 
Hence, while instructing the officials to protect the 
rights of the peasants, he declared, "God feeds us by 
their hands, welcomes us by their mouths and forbids 
their ill-treatment" ( ibid .) . 

2 Ibid . 

"Knowledge", declared ‘Abd Allah, "must be 
accessible to the worthy and unworthy; knowledge will 
look after itself and not remain with the unworthy." 

We do not know what exact ly_he meant by knowledge. 
Barthold doubts if ‘Abd Allah, living in an age of ra- 
tionalist supremacy, meant by it only Islamic theology 
( ibid . ) . 

. I . , new ed., p. 33 ; Barthold, Turkestan , p. 213 * 
^Barthold, Turkestan , p. 213 * 


last four years of his life,^ - was also an enlightened 


person like his father. 

As to the question why the ‘ulama* under the 
Tahirids did not react in the manner of their counter- 
parts at Baghdad, it is important to remember that 
there was a time-gap of some seventy five years between 
Abu Tazid and al-^allaj. Since, Abu Yazld, as far as 
we know, was the first §ufl to have made very shocking 
statements such as subhanl . perhaps the * ulama * did 
not take him very seriously; it is likely that he was 
considered a mad man. But after Abu Yazld' s time, as 
more and more §ufls began to make extravagant claims, 
the * ulama ’ gradually realized the gravity of the si- 
tuation and developed an attitude of hostility to them 
(Sufis). The situation reached a state of crisis only 
in the last quarter of the third/ninth century, and 
the Baghdad school of §uflsm had to bear the brunt of 
the orthodox attack. Abu al-§asan al-Nurl (d. 295/907- 
908), for example, was prosecuted by the authorities, 
although ultimately he escaped punishment.^ He said 

^If Abu Yazld died in 234/848 ( supra , pp. 47-49). 


Barthold, Turkestan , p. 214. 

■z, _ 

^ Abd al-Qadir, al- Junayd , p. 41. 


to his friend al-Junayd, ”0 Abu ’1-Qasim, thou hast 

concealed the truth from them and they have put thee 

in the place of honour; but I have told them the truth 

and they have pelted me with stones." 1 Even al-Junayd, 

in spite of his reputation as a devoutly religious 

person and a great intellectual, was later accused of 

infidelity 2 and brought before al-Muwaffaq, the brother 

of the caliph Mu 4 tamid (reign 256/870 — 279/892) . ,A1- 


Junayd described himself as a jurist aud thus escaped. 
If the orthodox failed to punish al-Nun, al-Junayd and 
others,^ they ultimately succeeded in sending al- 
gallao to the gibbet. 

We have mentioned previously that everytime 
Abu Yazld was banished from his native place, its po- 
pulation were believed to have been afflicted with 
some type of epidemic disease.^ Whether or not there 
would th any connection between Abu Yazld' s banishment 

■^Kashf, p. 164; trans. Nicholson, 151. 


Pages , p. 9. 

^‘Abd al-Qadir, al-Junayd . p. 58. 

See Pages , pp. 7-9 • 

^ Supra . p. 275. 


and the occurrence of an epidemic disease is a ques- 
tion we cannot answer, hut if the people were really 
afflicted with the disease when Abu Yazid was banished, 
this would also explain why the Bis-fcamis, including 
the ‘ulama* , would not be very hard with him. 

Finally, aside from the religious factor, al- 
§allaj seems to have been a victim of political in- 
trigues.^ - But we do not know of any such complication 
in the case of Abu Yazld. 

ii) The Baghdad School of §ufism 

Al-Junayd, the most prominent representative 
of the Baghdad school both praised and criticized Abu 
Yazid for his shatahat , but al-Shibli and al-galllj 
only critici ed Abu Yazid. 

a) Al-Junayd: Al-Junayd had high respect for 
Abu Yazid. Statements such as "Abu Yazid among us is 
like Gabriel among the angels" and Abu Yazid "reached 
‘ayn al-jam 1 "^ which, according to al-Sarraj, is 

^L. Massignon, "Al-Sallao” , E.I . new ed., Ill, 


2 Tadhkirat, I, 135 . 

^ Lurna * , p. 372. 


another name for tawbld ,^ show his appreciation of 
Abu Yazid' s mystical achievement. In justification of 
Abu Yazld's shatabat such as subbanl , he said, "The 
one who is annihilated in the vision of (God's) Glory 
expresses himself according to what annihilates him. 
When he is withdrawn from the perception of himself so 
that he sees nothing other than God, he describes 


Him." He said again, "I saw that the utmost limit of 
his state ( bal ) . • . was that which few could under- 
stand from wh*t they had heard or which few could in- 
terpret because only those who knew its meaning (i.e., 
the meaning of the state) and were aware of its 
source could bear with it."^ 

It is the same al-Junayd who said: "In spite 
of his exalted state and lofty symbolic expression 
(isharah), Abu Yazid did not come out of beginning 
stage; I did not hear any of his words which would be 
indicative of his perfection ( kamal ) and completion 

1 Ibid. 

^Nur, p. 68. 

Massignon seems to be prejudiced against Abu Yazid 
when he says that this comment of al-Junayd applies 
more properly to al-^allaj's utterances (Essai, p. 280). 

^Luma‘ , p . 381 . 


( nihayah ) . Abu Yazld, said al-Junayd, "was drowned 
in what he experienced and missed the true reality 


( baqlqat al-haqq ) because he did not enter it...." He 
correctly described things concerning the science of 
unification ( c ilm al-tawbld) except that his words 
were only the beginnings of what would be worthy of an 


adept in this science."^ 

Now, how can we explain the inconsistency in 
al-Junayd's attitude to Abu Yazld? We do not know at 
what period of his life al-Junayd made which state- 
ment. It is, however, possible for us to presume that 
he made the appreciative statements about Abu Yazld in 
a period when the hostility of orthodox Muslims to 
§uflsm had not yet grown very strong and when al-§allaa 
had not yet gotten into serious troubles. But later, 

1 Ibid . . p. 397. 

2 Ibid., p. 381. 

5 Ibid. 

There are other comments of this nature by al-Junayd. 
For example, Abu Yazld requested God to clothe him with 
God's I-ness and raise him to His oneness so that when 
the creatures would see him, they would say, "We have 
seen You". Commenting on this, al-Junayd remarked that 
the very fact of Abu Yazid' s asking_God to clothe him 
with His I-ness, etc. shows that Abu Yazid was only near 
to achieving the goal (ibid., p. 382). For another 
remark of this kind, see ibid ., pp. 388-389. 


when the situation changed, al-Junayd perhaps changed 
his views about Abu Yazid. If it is true that he was forced 
to disavow al-^allaj as his disciple 1 2 * 4 to save his own 
skin, it may also be true that he changed his views 
about Abu Yazid for the same reason.^ 

We can suggest yet another explanation for 
al-Junayd' s inappreciative remarks about Abu Yazid. As 
we said in the discussion of the states of drunkenness 
and of sobriety, al— Junayd was more sober than Abu 
Yazid. ^ in fact, the final goal of a §ufi, according 
to al-Junayd, is the state of sobriety. Abu Yazid said 
the same; but al-Junayd put it more emphatically than 
did Abu Yazid. Perhaps with this controversy in mind, 

al-Junayd remarked that Abu Yazid had not yet achieved 
the highest goal. ^ 

1 Kashf, p. 255. 


Badawi presumes that al-Junayd criticised the 
shatahat of al-§alla;j when the latter drew the atten- 
tion of the former to Abu Yazid' s shatahit . This, accord- 
ing to Badawi, embarassed al-Junayd and thus obliged him 
to lower the position of Abu Yazid ( Shatahat . pp. 29-50). 

Por al-Sarraj's explanation of the unappreciative 
remarks of al-Junayd on Abu Yazid' s shatahat. infra. 

pp. 287-288. *-*— » » 

^ Supra, p . 248. 


This might also be taken as an explanation of al- 
Junayd 's denial of al-gallaj's discapleship. 


b) Al-Shibll and al-Qallaj: Al-Shibll and al- 
9allaj also criticized Abu Yazid. Al-Shibll said, "If 
Abu Yazld were here, indeed he would have accepted 
Islam at the hands of our children."^ Al-gallaj's re- 
mark seems to be less critical. He said, "Poor Abu 
Yazid 1 He reached the threshold of divine speech. 
These words which came to his lips were really coming 
from God. But he was unaware of it, because he was 
blinded by his pre-occupation with the so-called Abu 

Badawl tries to explain al-Shibll's unfavour- 
able remark on Abu Yazld' s shatabat in terms of an 
attitude of prudence ( taqiyyah ) . According to Badawl, 
the case of Abu Yazid must have been raised along with 
that of al-JJallao because of the similarity of their 
teachings. Al-Shibli, who was asked on the day of the 
punishment of al-JJallaj, to come and to declare a 
curse on al-§alla;j in the presence of witnesses, would 
naturally have been asked his opinion about Abu Yazld's 

^Luma 4 , p . 397 • 

Al-Sarraj's explanation of al-Shibli's comment is 
interesting^ According to al-Sarraj, al-Shibll meant to 
say that Abu Yazld^would have benefitted from the dis- 
ciples of al-Shibll' s time ( ibid .) . 

^JJusayn b. Man§ur al-gallaj, Kitab al-Tawasin , 
ed. L. Massignon( Paris: Paul Geuthner , 1913) » P • 1?7 • 


shatahat . It is in this situation that al-Shibli cri- 
ticized Abu Yazid. This, says Badawi, is clear from 
al-Shibli' s expression, la-aslama (indeed, he would 
accept Islam); for, this usage made Abu Yazid an in- 
fidel in the same way al-9alla^ was made an infidel. 1 

Badawi's argument is based on his distinction 
of two stages in al-Shibli' s §ufi life. To the first 
stage, which according to Badawi, fell before al- 
gallaj's death, belonged al-Shibli' s own shatahat . In 
the second stage, that is, after the fate of al-Eallaj 
was decided, he uttered things which sounded like 


words of repentance. If Badawi could prove that all 
of al-Staibll's shatahat belonged to what Badawi calls 
the first stage of al-Shibli 's life, Badawi's explana- 
tion of al-Shibli 's comments would be convincing. But 
since it is not possible to prove this, we are not 
sure how valid Badawi's argument may be. Moreover, we 
have to explain al-JJallig's attitude to Abu Yazld's 
shatahat . Badawi does not at all attempt to explain 
al-Qallaj's criticism. 

Al-Sarraj explains al-Junayd's criticism of 
Abu Yazid' s shatahat with reference to a kind of 

badawi, Shatahat , p. 30. 

2 Ibid. . pp. 30-51. 


jealousy ( ghayrah) which God induces in the §ufl. Due 

to this sense of jealousy, says al-Sarraj, the §ufl 

thinks that his mystical state is the highest of all^" 

and thus, ctiticlzes the states of other §ufis. In our 

view, al-Sarraj' s explanation is better applicable to 

the criticisms of al-Shibli and of al-^allaj than to 

those of al-Junayd. The sense of jealousy is believed 

to exist among equals, and al-Shibli and al-§allaj 

were more nearly equal to Abu Yazid than al— Junayd. We 

would place Abu Yazid, al-Shibli and al-gallaj in one 

category in the sense that they, in contrast to al- 

Junayd, were all dominated by the state of drunkenness 

and showed relative unconcern for the consequences of 


the strange utterances. 

iii) Ibn Salim and al-Sarraj 

Abu al-§asan Aljmad Ibn Salim (d. 550/960), who 
succeeded his father Abu ‘Abd Allah Ibn Salim (d. 297/ 
909) as the head of the Salimiyyah school of §uflsm 
founded by Abu Muljammad Sahl al-Tustarl (d. 285/896), 
vehemently attacked Abu Yazid for his shatabat . 

• L Luma t , p . 597 • 

^Al-Shibli, however, was more concerned about the 
consequences of the shatabat than Abu Yazid and al- 
balla j • 


Al-Sarraj, who came to Abu Yazld's defence, not only 
tried to justify Abu Yazld's shatahlt but also attacked 
the Salimiyyab* on their own grounds. 

Once in a gathering with his disciples at 
Ba§rah, Ibn Salim declared that Abu Yazld had said 
what the infidel Fir* awn would not say. Fir* awn called 
himself rabb (lord) when he said, " Ana rabbukum al- 


a* la " (I am your Lord, Most High), and creatures can 

be called rabb as we say ' rabb dar * (the owner of a 

house), ' rabb mal * (the owner of a property), etc. But 

Abu Yazld called himself subhan which is the name of 

God and thus cannot be applied to anyone else . ^ Al- 

Sarraj, who was present at this gathering, protested 

and asked Ibn Salim if he had known the intention of 

Abu Yazld to be the same as that of Fir * * * 4 awn. Ibn Salim 

replied that what Abu Yazid said was infidelity ( kufr ) , 

and that he did not have to look further to see his 


X 0n the Salimiyyah, see E.I . IV: I, 115; Essai, 
pp. 294-300. 

^Qur’an, 79s 24. 

^Luma 4 , p . 390 . 

4 Ibid. 


Not satisfied with this answer , al-Sarrig re- 
marked that it was not just for Ibn Salim to condemn 
Abu Yazld as an infidel without knowing the intention 
behind this saying. It is possible, continued al- 
Sarraj, that Abu Yazld was uttering the words of God 
Himself when he said " sub haul " ; when someone says " La 
ilaha ilia ana : fa a * * * 4 buduni " (there is no God but I; 

so worship me",'*' everyone knows that the person is 


reciting the Qur’an and not speaking of himself. 

Ibn Salim also condemned Abu Yazld for his 
sayings, "Excused!" referring to the Jews buried in 
the cemetery and "Deceived!" referring to the Muslims 
buried in the graveyard, and for his saying, "I 
planted my camp near the Throne (*arsh)".^ 

As for Abu Yazld' s saying about planting his 

camp near the Throne, al-Sarrag said that there is not 

a piece of earth anywhere which is not close to the 

Throne of God. This argument was very strong because, 

■^This is a shatb of Abu Yazld ( supra , p . 270) . 

^Luma‘ , pp. 390-391 • 

5 Ibid., p. 391* 

4 Ibid., p. 392. 


according to the belief of the Salimiyyah themselves, 
God is present at every place so that there is no dif- 
ference between the Throne and any other place from 
this point of view. 1 * As regards the question of the 
Jews being excused and Muslims deceived, al-Sarraj, 
said, among other things, that the mere fact of one's 
being a Muslim and one ' s performance of external 
rites and rituals alone will not bring salvation. What 
is needed is God's grace. Hence the Prophet said, 
"There is not one among us who will be saved by his 
actions." "Not even yourself?" , said his companions. 

He replied, "Not even myself except if God strengthens 


me with His mercy." 

Al-Sarraj further pointed out that Ibn Salim 
was unjustly prejudiced against Abu Yazid*, for, Ibn 
Salim's own teacher, Sahl, made such strange utte- 
rances as "To mention God by the tongue is foolishness 
( hadhayan) and to mention God by the heart is devilish 
insinuation (waswasah)", and "My guardian ( mawla ) does 
not sleep and I do not sleep." Since Ibn Salim did not 
accuse Sahl of infidelity, he should not accuse Abu 

1 Essai, pp. 299-300. 

^Lurna 4 , p. 393 * 


Yazld of the same.^ 

As an advice for people like Ibn Salim, al- 
Sarraj suggested that one should maintain al-Junayd's 
attitude to the strange utterances of §ufls. When al- 
Junayd first associated with §ufls, he failed to 
understand many of their utterances. But he refrained 
from criticising them for these, and this ultimately 
led him to achieve the mystical goal that he attained. 

iv) Other §ufls and §ufl Authors 

Most of the important §ufxs and §ufl authors 
of later times accepted and interpreted Abu Yazld' s 
shatabat in order to justify them. In doing so, most 
appear to have followed and sometimes to have elabo- 
rated on the ideas contained in al-Junayd's apprecia- 

7 _ 

tive comments^ on these shatabat . To illustrate this 
stand, we shall take a few examples. 

1 Ibid., p. 594. 

2 Ibid. 

x _ T 

•'That Abu Yazid, having been annihilated in the 
vision of God, was only describing Him, and that it is 
not possible for anyone to understand the meaning of 
the shatabat unless he has gone through the same 
experience himself ( supra , p. 285) • 


a) Al-Hujwlrl: To al-Hujwirl, Abu Yazld's 
subbanl expresses the mystical state of union ( .jam * ) 
in which all human attributes disappear and a §uf I 
experiences God as the sole performer of his acts.^ 

Abu Yazld's words, "Glory be to me I How great is my 
majesty!", according to al-Hujwirl, occurred on his 
tongue, but the real speaker of these words was God 
Himself. It may so happen that "God's love holds abso- 
lute sway over the heart of His servant^ and that his 
reason and natural faculties are too weak to sustain 
its rapture and intensity, and that he loses all con- 
trol of his power to act (kasb)."^ When "the Divine 
omnipotence manifests its domain over humanity, it 
transports a man out of his own being, so that his 
speech becomes the speech of God." As a further proof 
of this, al-Hujwiri quotes the following Qur’anic 
verses and Prophetic Traditions which, according to 
him, express the same state of union: 

1 Hashf , p. 326. 

2 Ibid . , p. 327 . 

^ Ibid . ; trans. Nicholson, p. 254-. 

4 Ibid. 


Qur’anic verses: 

"You did not throw when you threw" ^ and "David killed 
Goliath." * 2 

Traditions : 

Gabriel told the Apostle that God said: "My ser- 
vant continually seeks access to Me by means of 
works of supererogation until I love him; and when 
I love him, I am his ear and his eye and his hand 
and his heart and his tongue: through Me he hears 
and sees and speaks and grasps. 

And the Prophet said, "God speaks with the tongue of 

Al-Hujwirl warns, however, that one should not 
think that in the state of union, a fusion ( ittibad ) 
of creatures and God occurs. According to him, it is 
impossible for God to "be mingled ( imtiza.i) with 
created beings or made one ( ittibad ) with His works or 
become incarnate ( ball ) in things: God is exalted far 
above that which the heretics ascribe to Him."^ 

^Kashf, p. 327 (Qur’an, 8:17) • 

2 Kashf, p. 327 (Qur’an, 2:252). 

^Kashf, p. 326; trans. Nicholson, p. 254. 

\ashf, p. 327. 

^Ibid . ; trans. Nicholson, p. 254. 


b) Al-Sahlagi: Al-Sahlagi' s interpretation of 
subbanl is interesting. He argues that subban (the 
Glorified One) is a name of God just as khaliq (Crea- 
tor), raziq (Provider) etc. are. Hence, when Abu Yazid 
said subbanl . he meant "Oh my Glorified One l" just as 
one says ' khaliql 1 to mean "Oh my Creator I" and Raziql 
to mean "Oh my Provider!". As regards ma a*zama shs&ii . 
al-Sahlagi thinks that Abu Yazid meant "How great is 
my majesty [Oh God], since You are my Glorified One, 
i.e., since You are mine!"^ 

Al-Sahlagi points out, however, that the reali- 
ty of subbanl cannot be understood 

except by the one for whom — the Self having been 
annihilated completely — — there remains only God 
through God with God. So, this [ subbanl] is an in- 
dication from Him through Him to Him; this refers 
to the exaltation (tanzlh) of men after the 
attainment of perfection ( kamal ) . the end of 
beauty ( jarnal ) , the utmost degree ( ghayah ) of 
glorification ( jalal ) and the permanence in a 
state beyond which there is no state. 2 

^Nur, p. 147. 

2 Ibid. 

Al-Sahlagi says elsewhere, 

The understanding of men came short in understand- 
ing his [Abu Yazid' s] speech; the imagination of the 
elite and of the generality was perplexed about the 
meaning of his words; his words were narrated, but his 


In al-Sahlagl's interpretation, we notice two 
elements. In the first case, he gives a very orthodox 
interpretation of the shatb of Abu Yazid from the lin- 
guistic point of view, while in the second case he 
justifies subbani by saying that its real meaning can 
be understood only by those who have themselves 
reached the state of subbani . 

c) ‘A^ar: According to ‘A^ar, when Abu Yazid 
said ' subbani 1 . it was God who spoke with Abu Yazid' s 
tongue. But how could a human tongue speak the words 
of God? ‘A'fc'tar answers that it is possible for a small 
thing to grow much bigger than its size. For example, 
the baby in the womb of the mother is very small; but 
it becomes many times bigger when it grows into an 
adult. The same happened to Abu Yazid. God's light 
penetrated the heart of Abu Yazid so that he was made 
capable of uttering God's words. God's light is such 
that when it shines on someone, it transforms him 
completely. If it shines on an old woman once, it makes 

intentions were not perceived; his wonders were des- 
cribed, but his strange (sayings and deeds) were not 
understood; his subtle (sayings and ideas) ( daqa’io) 
were collected, but his realities ( baqa’iq) did not 
reach the ears^ his expressions were known, but his in- 
dications (isharat) were not understood ( ibid . , p. 46 ). 


of her a Rabi‘ah, if it shines on Ibrahim b. Adham 
(d. 160/776) , it makes him a king of two worlds. When 
this light penetrates the heart of the §ufl, he becomes 
completely oblivious of this world and the next. Being 
absolutely effaced in this light, he now says . ' subhanl ' 
and ' ana al-haqq * 

‘A Iffcar, like al-Junayd and al-Sahlagl, adds 
that no explanation will be useful to one who has not 
experienced the state of subhanl himself. 

d) RumI: Jalal al-Din RumI (d. 672/1273), the 
great Persian §ufI-poet, interprets subhanl by saying 
that when Abu Yazld, in a state of intoxication, lost 
his Self and the candle of his reason disappeared be- 
fore the bright sun of God, God spoke on his tongue the 
words "Glory be to me'. How great is my majesty!" and 
"There is no god but I; so worship me I" That God speaks 
with human tongue is shown by the fact that His words 
in the Qur’an were spoken on the lips of Muhammad. ^ 

Elsewhere, RumI regrets that in earlier times 
§ufls such as Abu Yazid and al-§allao suffered at the 
hands of their contemporaries for their strange 

^Farld al-Din ‘A'Jf'fcar, Elahi Nameh , ed. H. Ritter 
(Istanbul: Staatsdruckerei, 1949), pp. 361-362. 

^Tadhkirat , I, 141. 

^Ruml , Mathnawl , IV, 401-402. 


utterances. As lovers of God, they suffered the pain. 

God said, "They put the Prophets to death unjustly."^ 

But it was good that they suffered; for they suffered the 
pain as aloes wood (*ud) does when put in the fire • 

Rumi, nevertheless, expresses his satisfaction 
over the fact that although each of the verses composed 
by §ufi masters in his day contains one thousand ana 
al-baqq s and subhani s. no one has the audacity to say 


a word against them.*' 

^Qur’an, 2:61. 

^Shams al-Dln Ahmad al-Afllkl, Manaqib al-*£rifln . 
ed. Tahsin Yazici (Ankara: Tttrk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 
1959) , I, 466-467. 

'“’ibid . , p . 467 • 

Mahmud Shabistarl (d. 720/1320), the author of the 
famous Gulshan-i Raz , does not mention subhani . But his 
interpretation of al-Halla j ' s ana al-haqq is^equally 
applicable to Abu Yazid's subhani . Shabistarl says 
that in a state of complete selflessness, al-§allaj 
realized the absolute oneness of God so that there re- 
mained for him no distinction between *1', 'You' and_ 
'He'. In this state, al-gallaj cried out, saying. " Ana 
al-haqq " . These were but God's words; for,_who can say 
these except He? It was lawful for al-hallaj to utter 
these words, because, if the burning bush could say, "I 
am God" (Qur’an, 20:14; this refers to the Qur’anic 
story of the speech of the burning bush that Moses wit- 
nessed), why should it be_unlawful for a good man to 
say, " Ana al-haqq "? (Mahmud Shabistarl, Gulshan-i Raz 
in E.H. Whinfield's Gulshan-i Raz : The Mystic Rose Garden 
[London: Trttbner & Co., 1&80], p. 27). 

Por Baqll's interpretation of subhani , see 
Shathiyat . pp. 89-93. Baqll devotes a large section of 
his work (pp. 78-150) to the interpretations of Abu 
Yazid's shatahat . 

Chapter VI 


We turn now to a discussion of a controver- 
sial subject — Indian influence on Abu Yazld's 
thought* Scholars started debating this question more 
than a century ago and are still debating it. Hence a 
dissertation on Abu Yazld without a discussion of this 
problem would be incomplete. 

1. Background of the Controversy on the Problem 

European scholars began to discuss the question 
of Indian influence on §ufrsm from the very beginning 
of their serious study of this subject. Writing in 
Latin in 1821, Tholuck declared. 

For considering the multitude of Magians that 
had remained especially in northern Persia, and 
apprehending that many of the most eminent §ufl 
doctors were born in the northern province of 
Khorasan; having in mind also how the language had 
formerly passed from India to Persia, as well as 
how, amid the variety of opinions which even in 



the time of Agathias had divided Persia, some por- 
tion of Indian doctrine had also migrated thither: 
I came at one time to the view that §uflsm had 
been thought out in about the time of al-Ma’mun 
by Magians in Khorasan surviving [Magians sur- 
viving in Khurasan who were] imbued with Indian 
mysticism. This opinion gained further support 
from the fact that, as we often read, the founders 
of the sects were either descendants of Magian 
families or at least were well acquainted with 

Tholuck later abandoned this theory for lack 
of evidence. ^ But the tradition of tracing Indian 
influence in §uflsm continued. Most of the important 
nineteenth century scholars of §uflsm, e.g., Alfred 

^Tholuck A Ssufismus, pp. 42-45; trans. Arberry, 
History of Sufism , p. Ty« 

On the basis of this statement, we can say that, 
from Tholuck' s point of view, Abu Yazld was influenced 
by Indian thought because he belonged to Khurasan, 
lived about the time of Caliph al-Msbnun, was the 
grandson of a Magian and lived in the neighbourhood 
of Magian families. It is probable that when Tholuck 
made the above statement, he had Abu Yazld in mind. 

^Arberry, History of Sufism , p. 17 • 


1 2 

von Kremer of Germany, R. Dozy of Holland and I. 
Goldziher^ of Hungary believed that in some form or 
other Indian thought influenced the development of 

The controversy over this problem took momen- 
tum in the twentieth century. But since at the moment 
we are concerned with the question of the possibility 
of Indian influence on Abu Yazld, we shall discuss the 
problem only in so far as it is related to an under- 
standing of Abu Yazld. 

In 1906, R. A. Nicholson, in his article "A 
Historical Enquiry Concerning the Origin and 

^Alfred von Kremer, Geschichte der herrschenden 
ideen des islams; der Gottesbegriff , die proohetie und 
staatsidee (Leipzig: BrockhausI 186b), p. 67. 

He says, "...It is much more natural to believe 
that mysticism came from Persia; it actually existed in 
that country before the Muslim conquest, thanks to the 
influence from India..." (trans. Arbery, History of 
Sufism , p. 25). 


R. Dozy, Essai sur l'histoire de Vislamisme 
(Paris : Maisonneuve, 1879)* p. 317- 

^1. Goldziher, "Materialien zur Entwickelungsges- 
chichte des §ufismus" , Vienna Oriental Journal . XIII 
(1899), 55 ff; and the chapter "Asketismus und 
Sufismus" in his Vourlesungen Hber den Islam 
(Heidelberg: Carl Winter, 1910 pp. l66-l65» 


Development of §ufism" , declared that Abu Yazid was 
"probably" influenced by Buddhist thought. ^ Afterwards, 

he modified his views. In 1916, he wrote in The Mystics 

_ p 

of Islam that he was certain of this influence. 

Some six years later Massignon studied some of 
the basic terms of the classical Yoga of Patanjali, 
and of §uflsm and concluded that some of these terms, 
e.g., nafs and atman, qalb and manus, have equivalent 
meanings.^ But at the same time he discovered that the 
§ufl terms such as fana * have no equivalents in the 


Patanjali texts. He further pointed out that shath 
which, according to him, is a positive state of dia- 
logue between man and the supernatural, is the most 
characteristic feature of §uflsm. But the phenomenon 
of shath does not exist in Patanjali because he does 


not have the conception of a personal God. With this 
evidence, Massignon had doubt about the possibility of 

^R.A. Nicholson, "A Historical Enquiry Concerning 
the Origin and Development of Sufism", JRAS (1906) 
p. 550. 

^Nicholson, Mystics , p. 17* 

^ Essai , p. 92. 

^Ibid. , p. 95* 

^Ibid. , pp. 94—95- 


any Indian influence on §uflsm in general and on Abu 
Yazld in particular He concluded that ’’Islamic mys- 
ticism, in its origin and development, proceeded from 
the Qur’an constantly recited, meditated and practised 
[by Muslims]." 1 2 * 4 5 6 

We should mention, however, that Massignon did 

not exclude the possibility of some Hindu ascetic in- 
fluence on the §ufl orders of modern times. According 
to him, "it is probable that the critical student of 
the modern congregations [ tariqat ] would establish the 
infiltration of certain methods of Hindu asceticism."^ 

After Massignon came Max Horten who, in the 
first of his two papers published in 1927, tried indus< 
triously to prove that there was an Indian influence 

_ t 4 - S 6 

in Abu Yazid, al-gallaj^ and al-Junayd. Because of 

1 Ibid ., p. 279- 

2 Ibid., p. 104. 

^Massignon, " Tasawwuf ” . E.I . , IV, 685* 

Gardet has elaborated on Massignon' s views on the 
question of Indian influence on Sufism (Mystique, 
pp. 95, 110-115, 201, 235 and 242 ff. 

4 * » 

Horten, Indische, pp. 17-25. 

5 Ibid., pp. 1-17. 

6 Ibid . , pp. 26-32. 


his "methods of argumentation and the categorical 
nature of his conclusions,”'** we shall not take Horten 
very seriously. 

The controversy on the question of the possi- 
bility of Indian influence on Abu Yazid was then taken 
up by two living scholars of our time: R.C. Zaehner 
and A.J. Ar berry. In his Revelation and Reason in 

Islam . Arberry, in 1957* tried to refute the views of 


his teacher, Nicholson, on this problem. Since that 
time the two British professors^ have been talking 
back and forth on the problem in the form of a dialogue. 
Zaehner is an enthusiastic supporter of the theory of 
Indian influence on Abu Yazid as propounded by Nicholson 
and Horten. He also presented his position in 1957* 

Two years later he elaborated further on his position 
in Hindu and Muslim Mysticism . Then came Arberry 

^Arberry, History of Sufism , p. 38. 


Arberry, Revelation and Reason , pp. 90-91* 

^Zaehner and Arberry 
4 hmm, pp. 93-110. 

One gets the impression from Zaehner' s writings^ 
that from his point of view, almost all that Abu Yazid 
said or did by way of paradox and, for that matter, all 
that is of a paradoxical nature in §uflsm itself, must 
have been borrowed from Indian sources. 


again. In his "Bis1?amiana" in 1962, he tried to re- 
fute Zaehner's thesis point by point. Arberry's views 
have found further support in the work of his pupil, 
Qasim al-Samarra’I , in The Theme of Ascension in 
Mystical Writings .^ 

In brief this is a history of the debate on 
the problem of possible Indian influence on Abu Yazid. 
We shall now take up the major issues on which the con- 
troversy centers and examine them one by one. 

2. A Discussion of the Major Issues of the Controversy 

i) Abu Yazid' s Doctrine of Fana * and the Buddhist 
Doctrine of Nirvana 

According to Nicholson, "the method of §ufism, 
so far as it is one of ethical self-culture, ascetic 
meditation, and intellectual abstraction, owes a great 
deal to Buddhism."^ As a clear example of this, he 
refers to Abu Yazid' s doctrine of f ana 1 which "is 

Supra , p . 42 . 

^Al-Samarra’I, Theme . pp. 212-224. 

^Nicholson, Mystics , p. 17* 


certainly, I think, of Indian origin. Nicholson then 

concludes that although the implications of the concept 

of fan5* and those of the Buddhist concept of nirvana 

differ greatly, "the terms coincide so closely in 

other ways that we cannot regard them as being alto- 


gether unconnected." 

Horten divides the development of Abu Yazld' s 
mystical life into three periods and finds an aspect 
of Indian thought corresponding to each of these 
periods. The first period which, according to Horten, 
extends from 236/850 to 246/860, is the period of ne- 
gativism. In this period, Abu Yazld said, "I ascended 
to the field ( maydan ) of nothingness ( laysiyyah ) . Then 
I continued to fly in it for ten years until I passed 
from nothing in nothing through nothing."^ This is the 
stage of his consciousness of the void, of nothingness. 
Since, at this stage, Abu Yazld had no consciousness 

1 Ibid. 

Nicholson was not so certain as this in 1906 
( supra , p. 302). 


Nicholson, Mystics , pp. 18-19. 

^ Supra . p. 178. 


of the Braljman, this was his experience of Buddhistic 

. - 1 
nirvana . 

The views of Nicholson and Horten that nirvana 
has only negative implications is no longer considered 
correct. Modern scholars have shown that it also has 

^"Horten, "Indische", I, 17-19* 

In the second period (after 246/860), Abu Yazld, 
according to Horten, passed from the stage of negati- 
vism to that of positivism. So he (Abu Yazld) said, 
"Then I ascended to loss ( tadyi * ) which is the field of 
tawbid " (supra, p. 178). Abu Yazld was now conscious of 
the substance, the Bradman, underlying the phenomena. 
This period, therefore, represents a passage from the 
Buddhistic nirvana to the positivism of Braljmanism 
("Indische" , I, 20-24). 

In the third period (around 256/870) Abu Yazld, 
says Horten, experienced an identification of the phe- 
nomenal ego with the eternal I. This is expressed in 
his address to God, "Adorn me with Your cneness( wahda- 
niyyah ) , clothe me with Your I-ness and raise me up to 
tour unity ( ahadiyyah) so that when Your creatures 
see me, tney may say, J We have seen You", and You shall 
be that, and I shall not be ther^" ( supra . pp . 192-195). 
At this stage, Abu Yazld had surpassed the limits of 
phenomenal existence and become the I of God. So, he 
could say, "Glory be to me! How great is my majesty! " 
This, according to Horten, is the Indian Atman 
doctrine ("Indische", I, 24-25)* 

Horten's distinction of the development of Abu 
Yazid' s mystical life into three periods of time on 
the basis of the texts on Abu Yazid' s mi*ra.i makes one 
doubt if Horten understood the real nature of §ufism. 
Obviously, when Abu Yazid said that he flew in the 
sphere of nothingness for ten years, he did not refer 
to a period of ten calendar years. 


a positive aspect. According to E. Conze, for example, 

nirvana is 'unthinkable' or 'inconceivable'; "there is 

nothing in the world even remotely like it""*" and 

"reasoning ( tarka ) cannot get anywhere near it.... All 


conceptions of Nirvana are misconceptions." Hence it 
is not possible to say what thing nirvana is. But "if 
one cannot say what a thing is, that does not make it 
into a nothing if the fault lies not in the thing, but 
m the words . " y YJhat nirvana is can only be tasted; 
"everyone must experience it personally for himself... 

Another scholar, B.L. Suzuki, shows that al- 
though in Hinayana Sutras nirvana means a "state of 

■^E. Conze, Buddhist Thought in India C London; George 
Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1962), p. 57 • 

Conze says elsewhere that ultimately nirvana "is 
unthinkable and incomprehensible. It is only as a 
therapeutically valuable, though basically false con- 
cept that, during certain phases of our spiritual 
progress, it can be of use to our thoughts, and enter 
into the practice of contemplation" ( Buddhism: its 
Essence and Development [Oxford: Bruno Cassirer, 1951] , 
p. ll£). 

^Conze, Buddhist Thought , p. 57 • 

5 Ibid., p. 76. 

According to Conze, even "the 'extinction of indi- 
viduality' is not necessarily something 'negative'" 
( ibid .) . 

4 Ibid., p. 57. 


complete extinction in which there is no more greed, 
no more anger, no more folly, nor all the other evil 
desires and passions”,^ in the Mahayana Sutras it 

acquires a positive significance; it is no nlore a 
negative state but something existing by itself; 
it is Reality, from which all Buddhas issue. In 
the Mahayana Nirvana Sutra (Fas. VI) we read: "It 
is not quite right, it is inadequate to state 


that the Tathagata's entrance into Nirvana is 
like a fire going out when the fuel is exhausted. 

It is quite right to state that the Tathagata 
enters in the Dharma-nature itself. 

Suzuki further tells us that according to Mahayanists, 

the Arhat,^ having attained individual emancipation, 

must feel compassion to creatures; he "must become the 

Bodhisattva, even for his own salvation, because if he 

is endowed with the Buddha-nature he cannot sit 

■^B.L. Suzuki, Mahayana Buddhism (3rd ed«; London: 
George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1^3^) , pp. 33-34 . 


This is an epithet to express Buddha's personality 
( Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics » XII, 202). 

^Suzuki, Mahayana Buddhism , p. 34. 

^This is a technical term "applied to those who 
have reached the end of the Eightfold Path, and are 
enjoying the fruits of it..." ( Encyclopaedia of 
Religion and Ethics , I, 774). 


serenely, all alone, at the top of the hill of en- 
lightenment and look down on the suffering multitudes."^ 

He must return to the world to help people achieve 


emancipation as Buddha himself did. 

Thus we find that both nirvana and fana* have 
negative as well as positive implications, and that 
both the Malj.ayan.ists and §ufls say that man, after 
having achieved the supreme goal, must return to the 
world for the guidence of his fellow-men. We would 
note, however, that these similarities are only super- 
ficial and, therefore, should not give an occasion to 
the protagonists of the theory of Indian influence on 
§uflsm to speculate that nirvana and fana * have identi- 
cal meanings. In its negative aspect, fana * implies an 
obliteration of the consiousness of all other than God— 
of the world, of the hereafter, of God's gifts and 
even of God's names and attributes. But nirvana cannot 
refer to the annihilation of the consciousness except 
of the first, that is, of the world. Buddhism does not 

■^Suzuki, Mahay ana Buddhism , p. 64. 

^Ibid. , p. 63* 

For an excellent survey of the history of the 
study of the doctrine of nirvana , see G.R. Welbon, "On 
Understanding the Buddhist ilirvana" » History of 
Religions . V (1965) , 300-326. 


have the ideas of God and therefore of His reward, 
punishment, etc. In its positive aspect, fana* means 
baqa * in God. Obviously, nirvana of atheistic Buddhism 
cannot imply a positive element in this sense. Re- 
garding the notion of a return to this world, first we 
should make one point clear. Strictly speaking, the 
idea of a return to the world is not implied in the 
concept of f ana ’ . I* ana 1 refers to an upward journey 
from creatures to God whereas the return, which al- 
Junayd calls sahw . refers to a downward journey from 
God to creatures. Having made this point clear, we 
would say that the §ufl conception of a return has 
distinct implications. For example, it is God who re- 
turns the §ufl to His creatures so that he may guide 
his fellow men in their journey to Him."*" Moreover, in 
§uflsm, one makes a distinction between the functions 
of a §ufl ( wall ) after his return and those of a pro- 
phet (nabi) . For example, obedience to a prophet is 
obligatory on man, whereas obedience to a §ufi is not. 
It goes without saying that nirvana does not have any 
such implications. 

^ 4 Abdu-r-Rabb , al-Junayd . p. 111. 


ii) Abu Yazid' s Us@ of the Words Sha j arah (Tree) and 
Khud* ah (Deceit) and the Occurrence of the Words 
Svatthas and Maya in Indian Thought 

While expressing his experience of mi*rl.i . Abu 
Yazid said, " • • • I reached the expanse of eternity 
in it I saw the tree of oneness." According to al- 
Sarraj, Abu Yazld "described the soil [in which it 
grew] its root and branch, its shoots and fruits, an d 
then he said, : 'Then I looked, and I knew that all 
this was deceit'."^ 

Zaehner picks up from this text two words, 
"tree" and "deceit", and tries to prove that Abu Yazld 
borrowed these from the Indian systems which have 
words exactly corresponding to these. As for the 'tree', 
he thinks that it is the tree of the Katha Upanl§had 
and the Bhagavad Gita. Although al-Sarraj does not say 
how Abu Yazld described the soil from which the tree 
grew, its roots, branches, shoots and fruits, "we can 
be fairly certain", says Zaehner, that Abu Yazld 
described these according to the original in the Gita 

Luma 4 , p. 584. 

We are quoting Zaehner' s 
P. 95). 

translation of the text 


which runs as follows: 

With roots above and branches below the imperish- 
able fig-tree has been declared. Its leaves are 
the Vedic hymns. Whoso knows it knows the Veda. 
Below and above extend its branches nourished by 
the qualities ( gunas ) . and the objects of sense 
are their sprouts. Below are extended the roots 
from which arise actions in the world of men.^ 

To Zaehner, this is a striking similarity. He further 
adds that the same tree also appears in the Mundaka 

— O 

and Svetasvatara Upani§ads. 

Regarding the word * deceit ' , Zaehner thinks 
that it is a translation of the Sanskrit * may a 1 2 . In 
fact, he says that the "two words could scarcely 
correspond more exactly." To support this, he quotes 
the dictionary meanings of khud* ah and maya from Lane 
and Monier Williams respectively. He points out, more- 
over, that to the best of his knowledge, "the world is 
not described as khud‘ ah in any other §ufl text.... 

When the §ufls speak of the unreality of the world, 
they speak of it as a dream, or a game, not as deceit."^ 

1 HMM . p. 96. 

2 Ibid. 

5 Ibid., p. 97. 

In answer to Zaehner's arguments about the 
"tree", Arberry says that "there appears to be at 
least some grounds for supposing it [the tree] to be 
rather tha famous Tree of Life so familiar in Jewish 
and Muslim literature."'*' In a Muslim context, this may 


be "the 'lote-tree of the Boundary', farthest point 
of Muhammad's mi‘rao." I bn ‘Arab! also made this Lote- 
tree the final point of his mi t ra t j . The commentators 
of the Qur’anic verse 53 :14 in which the Lote-tree 
occurs speak of its root, branch, shoots etc.^ 

In regard to the word khud* ah , Arberry points 
out. that it does not occur in the Qur’an exactly in 
this form, but God is described in the Qur’an as khadi* 
(derived from the same root kh d and makir to mean 
that He is "a master of guile and cunning in His 
dealings with men.... It is part of His plan to 'try' 
and 'test' His creatures, to prove the true quality of 
their faith and worship; the term bala ’ occurs fre- 
quently enough both in the Qur’an and in §ufl literature, 

^"Bis-fcimiana" , p. 29. 

^Qur ’ an , 53 s 1 3-18 * 

^"Bis-fcamiana" , p. 29, n. 3* 

4 Ibid., pp. 29-30. 


Hence, naturally, a Muslim does not have to go to the 
Gita to borrow the word khud* * ah . As for Zaehner's 
remark that the world is not described as khud* ah in 
any other §ufl text, Arberry points out that -the cele- 
brated §ufl al-Junayd attributes the quality of 
khud* ah to God and "establishes the divine khud* ah as 
part of the 'law' of bala * " Al-Junayd also speaks 


of God's makr (guile). Ironically, Zaehner himself 
has translated in the appendix of his book the passages 
in which al-Junayd speaks of khud* ah and makr . Arberry 
further indicates that even if we suppose that no one 
other than Abu Yazld has called "the world precisely a 
khud 1 , one can at any rate cite a verse attributed to 
‘Umar Khaiyam in which the universe is described as 'a 
sleep and a dream, a deceit and a delusion'."^ On the 
basis of thiSjArberry concludes that "Abu Yazld' s 
phrase 'and I knew that all this was deceit'... is 
perfectly clear and natural regarded as a mystic's 
extension of the Qur’anic picture of God as the supreme 



■*Tbid., p. 30. 

2 Ibid. 

5 Ibid., p. 31 . 



As far as we are concerned, Arberry's argu- 
ments concerning Abu Yazid's use of "tree” is correct. 
As further evidence in support of his arguments, we 
may add that in one account of Abu Yazid's mi*ra.i . the 
famous Lote-tree of the Qur’an is positively identi- 
fied. According to this account, Abu Yazld is reported 
to have said, 

I rode on the mount (markab) of sincerity ( sidq ) 
until I reached the air; then (I rode on the mount 
of) yearning ( shawq ) until I reached the sky; then 
(I rode on the mount of) love until I reached the 
Lote-tree ( sidrat al-muntaha) . Then I was called, 
"Oh Abu Yazidl What do you want?" I said, "I want 
not to want."^ 

But what seems more probable is that the 'tree' in 
Abu Yazid's text may refer to the 'tree' of the famous 
light verse of the Qur’an which reads as follows: 

God is the Light of heavens and earth. The like- 
ness of His light is as if there were a niche and 
within it a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The lamp 
is as it were a glittering star. This lamp is 
kindled from a blessed tree ( sha.larah) , an olive 
which is neither of the East nor of the West, whose 
oil is well-nigh luminous even if no fire touched 
it. Light upon light. God guides to His Light whom 

^ Kawakib . p. 250. 


He will. God sets forth similitudes for men (i.e., 
He speaks to men in allegories) , and He knows all 

We find that the word ' sha.jarah ' appears in this verse 
exactly in the same form in which it appears in Abu 
Yazid's saying. Moreover, the light verse describes 
1 sha.jarah 1 as that which is neither of the East nor of 
the West and is the source of the light of heavens and 
earth. 2 It is quite likely, therefore, that Abu Yazid 
had this 'tree' in mind when he spoke of the tree of 
oneness. We may add here that the light verse, because 
it is pregnant with mystical meanings, has always been 
a source of inspiration to the §ufxs.^ 

Regarding Abu Yazid's use of khud*ah . Arberry's 
argument that God, described in the Qur*an as khadi * 

^■Qur’an, 24:35* 

%he word sha.jarah in the verses such as 2:251 7: 19 
7:20; 7:22; 14:24 (.see Muhammad Fu ad Abd al-Baqi, Al- 
Mu* .jam al-Mufaharas li-Alfaz al-Qur’an al-Karlm [Cairo: 
Mi^riyyah, 1945], p. 373; has a different meaning. 

^Most of al-Ghazzali's Mishkat is an interpreta- 
tion of the light verse. 

For Najm al-Din Kubra's references to the verse, 
see Fawa’ ih, pp. 4-5, 30 and 32. 


and makir, is believed to 'test' and 'try' the be- 
lievers, and that the idea of bala 7 also occurs in 
§ufl literature, is correct. In support of Arberry's 
view, we may further point out that Abu Yazld himself 
spoke of God's testing on many occasions. On one occa- 
sion, for example, he advised one of his companions on 
the eve of the latter's journey to some place, "...If 
any bali * of God falls on you, come out of it quickly 
because it is something which a man with patience 
cannot bear. This means that one should try to pass 
the test quickly in order to reap its fruits. In the 
following tradition, we find Abu Yazld' s use of both 
'testing' ( imtiban ) and khud* ah : 

I was tested by an offer of a worldly gift, but I 
refrained from it. Then I was offered a gift 
relating to the hereafter, and my Self felt in- 
clined ot it. Then He (God) warned me that it was 
a deceit ( khud c ah ) and I refrained from it. When 

He saw that I was not deceived by the created 


things, He opened for me divine gifts. 

%ur, p. 103. 

^Ibid. , p. 119* 

Cf. The following saying of Abu Yazld: "The wor- 
shipper is granted the experience of joy. But because 
of his delight in it, he is prevented from the reali- 
ties of (God's) nearness" ( ibid . . p. 79) • For other 
examples of deception and testing, supra , p . I63(and 
165), n. 


It seems to us, however, that both Arberry 
and Zaehner have failed to understand the real impli- 
cations of the word khud* ah in Abu Yazld's teachings. 
Both of them start with the assumption that maya 
and khud* ah have indentical meanings. As a matter of 
fact, maya refers to the material world in which we 
live, move and have our being, whereas khud* ah in Abu 
Yazld's recitals refers to the angelic world ( malakut) 
which includes the Protected Tablet, the Throne, the 
Chair, etc. This is clear from the very context in 
which Abu Yazld used the word khud* ah . i.e., the con- 
text of his spiritual journey ( mi* ran) in the angelic 
world. This is also shown by the repeated theme in 
the version (or interpretation) of his mi* ran story 
in Ru’ya * : ft Then He continued to offer me a kingdom 
such as no tongue can describe, but all the while I 
knew that He was testing me therewith, and in reve- 
rence for the holiness of my Lord I paid no heed to it, 
saying, '0 my Beloved, my desire is other than what 
Thou offerest me'."^ This theme occurs seven times in 
the Ru*ya * , each time referring to God's gifts offered 
to Abu Yazld in a particular heaven. 

^• Ru’ya * , p. 404; trans. Nicholson " Mi*raa " , 
Islamica. p . 410 • 


We may go even further and say that by khud* ah 
Abu Yazid may have meant his deception by himself and 
not by God. When in his spiritual journey he saw diffe- 
rent things, he saw them as apart from God. That is to 
say, he failed to view those things as aspects of God. 
Thus Abu Yazid was himself responsible for his own 
deception. This view of ours is supported by the fact 
that the Qur’an describes God as khadi * and makir 
only with reference to those men who are themselves 
khadi * s and makirs . For example, the Qur’an says, “The 
hypocrites deceive ( yukhadi* un ) God, and God deceives 
them,”' 1 ' "They (the unbelievers) tricked ( makaru) (God) 
and God tricked (them). 2 These and many other verses^ 
show that God deceives and tricks the unbelievers and 
hypocrites who have done the same to Him first. Cer- 
tainly this sense of the word cannot be applied to Abu 
Yazid; for, he was neither a hypocrite nor an unbeliever 
who deceived God. If we take khud* ah in the sense in 
which we have just explained it, Abu Yazid' s tradition 
cited above 2 ** will mean that he considered God' s gifts 

•'■Qur’an, 4:142. 

2 Ibid., 3:54. 

5 E.g., 13:42; 14:46. 

^Supra, p. 318. 


relating to the hereafter as truly divine and thus 
felt inclined to them. But at once God warned him 
that he was being deceived by himself. Having realized 
his error, Abu Yazid turned his attention away from 

We should further note that bala ’ and khud* ah 
do not mean the same thing. Bala * is a favour which 
God bestows on his worshippers with a view to purifying 
them. It is like the educational punishment that a 
father inflicts on his son. As an example of this, we 
may refer to the Qur’anic story of Abraham's sacrifice 
of Isma‘Il. According to God's order, Abraham prepared 
to sacrifice his son. When the slaughtering was to 
take place, God replaced Isma‘Il with a sacrificial 
animal ( dhibb) This was not God's deception of 
Abraham; "obviously this was a trial ( bala ’ )" g for him 
for his own spiritual development. Abraham passed the 
test and received rewards from God.^ Thus, because 

1 Qur ’ an, 57 : 99-107. 

^Ibid., 57:106. 

5 Ibid., 57:108-111. 

The word bala ’ is used in the same sense also in 
other verses of tlae Qur’an (e.g., 2:49; 7:141; 8:17). 


bala ’ comes from God for the good of the one on whom 
it is imposed, §ufls look for and welcome it. It is 
said, for example, that Abu Yazid wished to receive 
bala ’ everytime he ate his food.'*' Khud* ah . on the other 
hand, has very different implications. God, as we have 


seen, deceives only in retaliation. Certainly a §ufl 
would not want this kind of khud* ah . 

The above discussion shows that the assump- 
tion of both Zaehner and Arberry that maya and khud* ah 
have identical meaning appears incorrect. Although 
Arberry is right in saying that God, as described in 
the Qur’an, deceives, tries and tests, it is perhaps 
incorrect to say that by khud* ah Abu Yazid meant God's 
deception of him. Whether or not the cause of decep- 
tion was God or Abu Yazid himself, the fact remains 
that the objects with reference to which Abu Yazid felt 
deceived were very much different from those to which 
maya refers. Hence it appears meaningless to draw any 
parallelism between maya and khud* ah . 

•*~ Nur . pp. 48-49. 


Supra, p. 320. 


iii) Abu Yazld's Paradoxical Utterance Subhani (Glory 
Be to me I) and the Mahyam eva Namo Namah (Homage, 
Homage to me) of the Upani§ad 

Zaehner thinks that Abu Yazld's famous 
utterance “Glory be to me I” has also been derived from 
a Hindu source. He argues that subhani “is absolutely 
blasphemous to Muslim ears, and nothing remotely com- 
parable is recorded of any of the §ufis who preceded 
Abu Yazld" ,■*" and that a Sanskrit equivalent of it is 

found in mahyam eva namo namah , "Homage, homage to 

__ p 

me!", in the Brahatsannyasa Upani§ad. 

Arberry does not offer a refutation of Zaehner's 
view; for, according to him, Massignon has convincing- 
ly shown that subhani represents Abu Yazld's attempt 
to experience in the first person what Muhammad had 
articulated in the Qur’anic verse in an indirect style 
in the second person by identifying himself with the 
prominent 'I' of ana rabbukum al-a*la "I am your Lord, 
Most High",^ the words of Pharoah. According to Arberry, 

^An exact opposite of Massignon' s view ( Essai , p.279). 

2 HMM, p. 98. 

^Qur’an, 89:24 (Essai, p. 272* ? or Arberry' s 
reference to Massignon, see "Bis’tamiana" , p. 32). 


"the attempt to find a Hindu source for this cele- 
brated shath seems so unlikely as not to call for 
further discussion."^ 

Arberry, nevertheless, finds it necessary to 
point out two errors of Zaehner. Zaehner argues that it 

is very possible, however, that Abu Yazld never 
went further than to say subhanl « which is all 
that Sarraj records, while Sahlajl reports no less 
than three versions of this particular logion, and 
it is therefore probable that the second phrase is 
in each case a gloss. Besides 'How great is my 
glory' we also have 'How great is my sovereignty 
( sultanl ) . and, more striking still, 'I am the 
Lord Most High' , the last of which is also reported 
as a separate saying. * 2 

This argument, says Arberry, "is somewhat invalidated 
by the fact that Abu Ifalib al-Makkl, who died only 
eight years after al-Sarraj, quotes the saying in its 
full form ( Qut al-qulub II, 75) • Secondly, Arberry 
points out that the correct translation of ana rabbi 
al-* ala is "I am 'my' Lord, the Most High" and not "I am 
the Lord, Most High" as Zaehner has done. There is a 

■^"Bistamiana" , p. 32. 

2 HMM, p. 98. 

^"Bis^amiana" , p. 32, n. 2. 


significant difference between these two translations. 

As a result of the mistranslation, Zaehner "has missed 
the subtle significance of the change made by Abu 
Yazid from the Qur’anic ' your Lord' to 'my Lord'." 1 2 * 4 

Arberry's criticisms of Zaehner are justified. 
But how can we explain these errors on Zaehner 's part? 
Zaehner seems to be obsessed with the idea that all 
that is important in early §ufism in general, and in 
Abu Yazid in particular, must have been borrowed from 
Indian sources. Hence, he seems to choose only that 
material which supports his already-formed view and to 
translate texts wrongly to fit them into his arguments. 
Otherwise, how can we explain his translation of rabbi 
as "the Lord", for example, since we are sure that 
Zaehner knows the meaning of the Arabic personal pro- 
nounced ya in the possessive case? 

We agree with Massignon (and Arberry who 
follows Massignon) that subbani was formed by a simple 
twist of a Qur’anic expression. The word subfran 

1 Ibid., p. 52. 

2 We do not, however, exclude the possibility of the 

ref6pence of subbam to the formuli subban rabbi al— 

4 azim and subban rabbi al-a* la which are used by 
Muslims in prayer. 


occurs in the Qur’an forty-one times in three forms: 
eighteen times followed either by the word 'Allah' or 
' r abb ' or the relative pronoun ' alladhl ' (who) re- 
ferring to God, nine times in the form of subhanaka , 
and fourteen times in the form of subhanahp . 1 In a 
state of ecstacy, Abu Yazld changed one of these ex- 
pressions into subhanl . 2 This, in fact, is the peculiar' 
ly Bis-fcaml way of expressing a mystical experience. The 
following examples of Abu Yazld' s mystical expressions 
( shatahat) and the corresponding Qur’anic verses from 
which these expressions were formed will further illus- 
trate our point: 


Ana rabbi al-a* la ^ • 
Inna batshl ashaddu min 
batshihi ^, 

Qur’anic verses 

i ,4 

Ana rabbukum al-a la , 
Inna batsha rabbika 
la-shadld 6 . 

ll Abd al-Baql, Mu* .jam , pp. 539-340. 

2 This change was made spontaniously; Abu Yazid was 
not conscious of what he was doing in a state of 
drunkenness ( supra , pp. 257-258). 

^Nur, p. 68. 

^Qur’an, 79:24. 

This correspondence has already been shown by 
Massignon ( Essai , p. 279)* 

^Nur, p. 111. 

Qur an, 85:12. 


InnI ana la ilaha ilia ana : . . . Annahu la ilaha ilia jana 

fa a* buduni^ . fa a* buduni * 2 

We can also point out that Abu Yazld is so 
well-known primarily because of his subhanl . The very 
mention of his name calls to our mind this famous 
expression of the §ufi. But why should subhanl be so 
important? The answer is: because it contradicts the 
Qur’anic subbanahu , subban Allah , etc. and is thus 
"blasphemous to Muslim ears."^ In fact, subhanl has 
the meaning that it has only in reference to the cor- 
responding expressions in the Qur’an; but for this 
reference, subhanl would be sheer non-sense. ^ 

It needed the genius and daringness of the re- 
bellious KhurasanI to formulate the shatabat such as 

Hlur , p. 122. 

2 Qur’an, 21:25- 

We should note that all shatabat do not correspond 
to the verses of the Qur’an in form. Many shatab at 
stand in a paradoxical relation to the 'meaning' of 
certain Qur^anic verses or in paradoxical relation to 
the meaning and form of certain Prophetic Traditions. 
In any case, they always contradict what is generally 
accepted as true by Muslims and this is why they are 

\'e are borrowing Zaehner's language here (supra, 
p. 323. 

Zl _ 

The same would be true of the shatabat quoted on 
f p.326 -327- 


subbanl either from Qur’anic verses or from some other 
Islamic sources.^ - On several occasions, shatabat 
flowed from Abu Yazid' s tongue when he fell into 
ecstatic states caused by his hearing the recitation 
of a Qur’anic verse, or the voice of a mu’ adhdhin 
calling out " Allah akbar ". etc . Once someone recited 
the Qur’anic verse "On that Day We shall gather the 


righteous to the Merciful in groups," On hearing this, 
Abu Yazid fell into an ecstatic state and said, "The 
one who is with Him does not need to be gathered, be- 
cause he is all the time sitting with Him."^ Another 
time, he made the utterance "There is no God but I; 
so worship me l" immediately after he had finished his 
dawn prayer.^ All this shows that his subbanl as well 
as other shatabat have reference only to Islamic con- 
texts. Hence, any attempt to find an extra-rlslamic 
source for subbanl or for any other shatb of Abu Yazid 
seems meaningless. 

^Supra, p. 527, n. 2. 

^Qur’an, 19:85* 

5 Nur, p. 157. 

^Ibid. , p. 122. 


iv) His Use of the Expression Anta dhika (Thou art that) 
and the Upani§adic Use of Tat tavam asi (Thou 
art that) 

While describing his experience of mi* ra.i , Abu 
Yazid said that he addressed God saying, "Adorn me 
with Your oneness ( wabdaniyyah) , clothe me with Tour 
I-ness and raise me up to Your unity (aJjadiyyah) so 
that when Your creatures see me, they may say, 'We 
have seen You 1 and You shall be that, and 1 shall not 
be there 


To Zaehner, "Thou art that" is not understand- 
able in the context; for, the pronoun 'that' ( dhaka) 
is never used in the Arabic language to mean God. But, 
on the other hand, the "pronoun 'that' (tat), however, 
is regularly used in Sanskrit as a synonym of 
Brahman . . . " ^ In fact, according to Zaehner, the 

Supra , pp . 192-193. 

Cf. Zaehner' s translation of the text: "Adorn me 
with thy unity and clothe me in Thine I— ness and raise 
me up unto thy oneness, so that when thy creatures see 
me, they may say: 'We have seen thee (i.e. God) and thou 
art that.' Yet I (Abu Yazid) will not be there at all" 
( HMM , p. 94) • 

^This is Zaehner* s translation of takunu anta dhaka . 

^ HMH, p. 94. 


Arabic phrase takunu ant a dhaka is a literal transla- 
tion of the tat .tvam asi of the Chandogya Upanijgad. 1 

Arberry first points out the error in Zaehner's 
translation of the crucial Arabic phrase in question. 

In his translation of it as M ... and thou art that", 
says Arberry, Zaehner has apparently failed to see 


the significance of 'fa' which indicates causality. 

As regards Zaehner's view that the pronoun 'that' 

( dhaka ) is not used in Arabic to mean God and that, in 

fact, takunu ant a dhaka is a literal translation of 

tat tvam asi . Arberry says that the Qur’an uses the 


pronoun dha (that) in many places to refer to God. 

The additional ka of dhaka is 

like variant forms, a particle of 'allocution... 
relating to an object that is distant, or, accord, 
to general opinion, to that which occupies a 
middle place between the near and the distant . * 

It would appear. . . that Abu Yazld was intending 
to say no more than that 'that' which the creatures 
were seeing (in 'a middle place between the near 
and the distant') was God, and that Abu Yazld had 

^ Ibid . , p. 93 • 

^"Bistamiana" , p. 34. 

^Arberry mentions verses 6:102; 10:3; 35: 14; 39:8; 
40:64, 66, and 42:8 (ibid.). 

• — 


ceased to exist as a contingent entirely apart 
from God. If this interpretation is correct, then 
there is no need to drag the Sanskrit tat tvam asi 
into the arena. ^ 

Arberry may be right in his explanation of 
the pronoun dhaka . It is possible that by dhaka Abu 
Yazld was referring to God who is neither far nor 
near — to God who is omnipresent. But we would say 
that Arberry' s attempt to discover a Qur’anic expression 
for every important utterance of Abu Yazld does not 
seem to be justified. Abu Yazld did not, and did not 
have to, always express his experience in exact 
Qur’anic terms or in Qur’anic terms at all. But this 
is certainly no reason to believe that he borrowed his 
expressions from extra-Islamic sources. The real error 
of Zaehner seems to be in the fact that he has taken 
the phrase tat tvam asi out of context and then has 
tried to show its similarity to takunu ant a dhaka . In 
the Upani§ad, Uddalaka Xrupi, while advising his son, 
says, sa ya eso’nima aitad atmyam idaft sarvam. tat 
satyam. sa atma: tat tvam asi. svetaketo, iti; bhuya 
eva ma, bhagavan, vi.inaoayatv iti. tatha. saumya . 

1 Ibid. 

gupra , p. 327, n. 2 . 


iti hovaca ."^ "Now that which is that subtile essence 
(the root of all), in it all that exists has its self. 

It is the True. It is the Self, and thou, 0 Svetaketu, 
art it."^ We should note that the meanings of the two 
texts differ. In the Indian context, the father says 
to the son: You are not only you; you are everything. 

Abu Yazld, on the other hand, says to God: I do not 
want that there be any Abu Yazld which people could 
see; I want that there be only You and not me. More- 
over, it is obvious that in the Upani§adic text, a man 
is addressing another man. In Abu Yazld* s text, on the 
other hand, a man is addressing God. This is clearly 
shown in one of Abu Yazld* s prayers: "How long shall 
this I-ness ( ananiyyah ) exist between me and You? I 
ask You to annihilate my I-ness from me so that my 
I-ness will be You, and You alone .shall remain and you 
will see only Yourself, oh my Friend'."'3 

^ Chandogya Upanisad , VI, 8, 7 (S. Radhakrishnan, 
ed. and trans.. The Principal Upanisads [London: George 
Allen & Unwin Ltd . , 19533 » P • 458 . 

. Max Muller trans. The Upanisads (New York: Dover 
Pablications, Inc., 1962), I, 101. 

%ur , p. 125. 

Abu Yazld used to narrate this prayer of his to 
Abu Musa (ibid. ) . 


For further evidence to show that by anta 
dhaka Abu Yazld was addressing God, we can cite a say- 
ing of Abu al-9asan al-Kharaqanl which is a resounding 
of Abu Yazld' s saying. Al-Kharaqanl says, 

Oh Godl On the Day of Judgement the prophets will 
sit on the pulpits (minbarha) of light and the 
creatures will look at them, and Your friends 
( awliya’i tu ) will sit on the thrones ( kursiha ) 
of light and the creatures will look at them, but 
Abu al-9asan will sit on Your unity (yaganigi) so 
that the creatures will look at You." 

In the last phrase of this saying we can detect the 

anta dhaka of Abu Yazld. In fact this whole saying of 

al-Kharaqani is in spirit the famous tradition of Abu 

Yazld which is under discussion. We say this not only 

because of the similarity between the two sayings but 

also because al-Kharaqanl, an Uwaysl disciple of Abu 


Yazld, tried to imitate the master as closely as 

1 Tadhkirat, II, 22?. 

^ Nafabat , p. 298. 

Al-Kharaqanl lived in Khurasan some two hundred 
years after Abu Yazld, but the spirit of Abu Yazid was 
his master. His veneration for Abu Yazld was so great 
that before his death he ordered his disciples to dig 
his grave thirty yards deep because his place was higher 
than Bis^am and he wanted to be buried at a level 
lower than that of Abu Yazld ( supra , p. 124, n. 1) 



possible. Many of his sayings contained in Tadhkirat , 1 
Nafahat^ and in other sources resemble those of Abu 
Yazid not only in meaning but also in form. 

v) Abu ‘All al-Sindi 

Al-Sarrad records that Abu Yazid said, 
fUXll c. , U-i 

| ^ 

I used to keep company with Abu ‘All al-Sindi 
and I used to show him how to perform the obliga- 
tory duties of Islam, and in exchange he would 
give me instruction in the divine unity ( tawhld) 
and in the ultimate truths ( fraqa’iq ) .3 

Zaehner concludes, on the basis of the above 

text, that the man from whom Abu Yazid learnt Indian 

doctrines was Abu ‘All al-Sindi. He accepts Nicholson's 

view that this famous master of Abu Yazid belonged to 


Sind, although Arberry and Massignon pointed out 

1 Tadhkirat « II, 201-255- 
^ NafahSt . pp. 298-299* 

^Luma‘ , p . 177 • 

We are quoting Zaehner' s translation of the text 
(HMM, pp. 95-94). 

^Essai, p. 98, n. 5* 


after Nicholson that this Sind might be the name of 
a village in Khorasan as recorded by the geographer 
Yaqut. 1 In answer to Arberry' s argument, Zaehner says, 
"Theoretically, of course, it might, but it is rather 
difficult to believe that the Sind referred to is any 
other than the province of that name." It seems 
"fairly clear" to Zaehner that Abu ‘All was a convert 
from another religion; for, as shown in the text, he 
"did not even know how to perform the obligatory 
duties of a Muslim."^ 

Arberry thinks that in translating the phrase 
"I used to show him how to perform the obligatory 
duties of Islam", Zaehner seems to have ignored 
Ritter's interpretation which suggests that Abu Yazld 
"had to teach [al-Sindi] the Kur’an verses necessary 
for prayer". ^ According to Arberry, the crucial words 

■^Arberry, Revelation and Reason , p. 90. 

2 hmh . p. 93- 

^ Ibid . , p. 94 • 

. I . , new ed., I, 162 ("Bis-fcamiana" , p. 53) • 

Arberry believes that Ritter's interpretation is 
based on the brief notice of Abu ‘All al-Sindi in the 
Nafabat of JamI drawn from Shat hi y at of Baqll 
("Bi st ami ana" , pp. 55-36)* 


in al-Sarra j ' s text are perhaps more subtle than 
Zaehner's translation indicates. The dictionary meaning 
of the verb lag q ana is "specifically 'making to under- 
stand of a thing that which one had not understood 
before.' (By Abu Yazld' s time the term mulaqqin had 
hardly yet acquired the specific meaning of 'elemen- 
tary teacher' which later attached to it...)." A con- 
flation of al-Sarraj's text with Baqli's version of it,"* - 
continues Arberry, gives us grounds to speculate that 

what Abu Yazld meant was that he instructed. . • 

Abu ‘All in the exegesis of Sura I and Sura CXII 
of the Qur’an; and it is interesting, in view of 
what Abu ‘All is said to have taught Abu Yazld in 
return, to remember that Sura CXII is sometimes 
known as the Sura of Taubld . 

On the basis of this, Arberry presumes , in contradis- 
tinction to Zaehner's presumption , that Abu ‘All was 
a new convert to Islam, 

that Abu Yazid took Abu ‘All, a village Muslim of 
little or no formal education, through the 
religious and legalistic meaning of the ritual 
and common duties of Islam, and to his surprise 
discovered in his pupil a mastery of the 'real' 

^Infra, p . 342, n. 1 . 

^"Bis'fcamiana" , p. 36. 


and mystic apprehension of God. If this guess is 
right, then Abu ‘All would belong to a type of 
simple saint, intuitively privy to the divine sec- 
rets, which is by no means uncommon in §ufi 
hagiography. 1 

Arberry further points out that even if the 
nisbah al-Sindl referred to Sind in India, there is 
no basis for thinking that Abu ‘All was originally a 
Hindu. He cites examples to show that the nisbah al- 
Sindl was applied to many descendants of the the ori- 
ginal Arab conquerors of Sind. To mention one of these 
examples, the 

traditionist Abu Muhammad Raja’ al-Sindl, who 

died in 221/836, also bore the nisba al-Nlsaburi 

(see Tahdhlb al-Tahdhib , III, 267) which takes 

him a long way from Sind; his son and grandson, 

who followed the same learned profession, also 


called themselves al-Sindl... 

Hence Arberry says that it is hazardous M to conclude 
that a man of Abu Yazld's period was a native of Sind 
and a convert from Hinduism because he bore the nisba 
al-Sindl." 5 _ 

1 Ibid. , pp. 36-37* 

%bid . , p. 37 » !• 

5 Ibid* 


Al-Samarra’I, while supporting the views of 
his teacher, has further elaborated the points. On 
the problem of Abu Yazid's teaching Abu ‘All, al- 
Slmarra’I quotes from Luma * and Risalah, 1 and says 
that fard in §ufl literature came to mean not the 
observances that are incumbent on all Muslims as 


Zaehner suggests, but "the strict observation of the 
religious and legalistic ritual of Islam" in which a 
novice is instructed by a §ufl master.^ As for Abu ‘All 
teaching Abu Yazld the doctrine of tawhld. al-Samarra’I 

^YJe reproduce below al-Samarra’I's quotations from 
Luma * and Risalah (trans. al-Samarra’I): 

Al-Sarraj says: "The first duty required.... know- 
ledge of the ordained obligations [faraid] and 
the Sunnah and what is desirable and what forbid- 
den by these , what is enjoined, what held fitting, 
and what is esteemed as virtue" I Luma * , pp. 144, 

149, 150]. Al-Qushairl put it more clearly: "The 
novice must master the sciance of the religious 
law, through self-scrutiny or asking the leaders 
of religion, that this may lead him to observe 
what is ordained [ fardahu «u. f **£ ; U) ; if the 

opinions given him by the jurisconsults differ, 
let him take what is agreed on by all, and always 
seek to avoid matters admitting difference of 
opinion, for latitude in religious law is for those 
whose faith is weak" [Risalah, p. 214) (al-Slmarra’I, 
Theme, pp. 217-218). 


The emphasis is ours. 

^ Al-Samarra’I, Theme, p. 217. 


first points out the discrepancies in Zaehner's trans- 
lation of tawfrld as "divine unity” and as "union" .*■ 
Then he observes that the whole view of Zaehner is 
founded on his assumption that Abu Yazid was an illi- 
terate man. This assumption, says al-Samarra’I, is 
based on Zaehner's wrong understanding of al-Sahlagl's 
characterization of Abu Yazid as umml . According to 
al-Samarra’I, al-Sahlagl means that Abu Yazid was 

"uninstructed in esoteric doctrine" and not that he 


was an "uneducated" man as Zaehner suggests. 

Regarding Zaehner's contention that Abu ‘All 
was an Indian from Sind, al-Samarra’I adds to his 
teacher’s arguments by saying that since both editions 
of the Risalah and a number of manuscripts of the same 
work mention the name of Abu ‘All with the nisbah al- 
Suddl, this nisbah would seem more probable than 

1 Ibid. , p. 220. 

2 HMK, p. 100 ( Mur , p. 53). 

^Al-Samarra’I, Theme , p. 221. 

Y/e think that here Zaehner is right. Abu Yazid, 
as we know, was uneducated in the sense that he did 
not receive any formal education except for the inter- 
pretations of the Qur’an up to the verse regarding 
service to God and parents in the chapter of Luqman 
( supra , p . 67) . 


al-Sindi because there was a village by the name of 
Sudd near Rayy, which is two farsakh from Bis-fcam, 
although two villages near Bist?am bearing the name of 
Sind were known. 1 * * * 5 "Moreover”, continues al-Samarra’I, 

Al-Bis^aml was described by Al-Sahlaji as being a 
student of Abu ‘Abd Al-Rahlm al-Suddl and Abu *Abd 
Al-RaJjman Al-Suddl;^ both of these seem to be one 
if we come to compare the authorities of their 
insad [ isnad] . Again, Al-SahlajI's monograph 
has no mention whatsoever of Abu ‘All, which seems 
rather curious. Furthermore, JamI states that his 
teacher in Sufism was a certain Kurd but does not 
reveal his name or identity. Professor Zaehner's 
presumption that Abu ‘All came to Abu Yazid as a 
convert from another religion is no more than a 
presumption. Are we not at liberty to presume that 
this Abu ‘All was a Kurd from Al-Sudd, a village 
in the neighbourhood of Rayy which is, according 
to Yaqut, called "the land of the Daylam" . (This 
is also no more than a presumption but has at 
least tangible historical evidence. He might alter- 
natively have been a native of Al-Sindiyya, a 
village on the river of ‘Isa. This is merely to 
pilexp presumptions.^ 

1 Al-Samarra’I, Theme, pp. 218-219. 


Massignon also has referred to this and said that 
Abu All al-Sindi may have been *Abd al-Rafcman al-Sindi 

(Essai, p. 275, n* 4). 

5 Ibid., pp. 219-220. 


We agree with Zaehner that although theoreti- 
cally it is possible that Abu ‘All's nisbah al-Sindl 
refers to Sind (or Sudd) in Khorasan, "it is rather 
difficult to believe that the Sind referred to is any 
other than the province of that name." 1 But again, 
Arberry seems to be right when he says that it is 
hazardous "to conclude that a man of Abu Yazid's period 
was a native of Sind and a convert from Hinduism be- 
cause he bore the nisba al-Sindl." What seems most 
probable to us is that Abu ‘All was a descendant of 
one of the early conquerors of Sind many of whom, as 
shown by Arberry, used to bear the nisbah al-Sindl.^ 
There seems to be no ground to believe that Abu ‘All 
was originally a Hindu coming directly from Sind in 
India • 

On the question of Abu Yazld teaching Abu ‘All, 
we cannot agree with Arberry and al-Samarra’I that Abu 
Yazld took Abu ‘All as a simple-minded villager Muslim. 
Abu Yazid's expression sahabtu^ strongly suggests that 

1 Supra, p. 335. 

^ Supra, p. 337. 

^ Supra , p. 357. 

^Luma‘ , p . 177 • 

Cf. F. Meier, "Oushavri's Tartib al-Suluk" , Oriens, 
XVI (1963), 1* 


he considered Abu ‘ All as his teacher, not as his 
pupil. In Shathlyat we find a clear reference to Abu 
‘All as one of Abu Yazid' s teachers.'*’ Moreover, Baqll 

has classified a saying of Abu ‘All under the shatahat 

_ p 

of §ufls. On the basis of this evidence, we accept 
Zaehner's view that Abu ‘All was a teacher of Abu Yazid. 

We have yet another question to answer. This 
has to do with what Abu ‘All and Abu Yazid taught each 
other. We cannot accept the view of Arberry that Abu 
Yazid taught Abu ‘All the "exegesis" of the chapters 
I and 112 of the Qur’an, nor can we agree with al- 
Samarra’I that Abu Yazid instructed Abu ‘All on the 
strict observance of religious duties. The views of 
both Arberry and of al-Samarra’I are based on the 
assumption that Abu Yazid was the master, and that Abu 
‘All was his disciple. This, as we have seen, does not 
seem to be correct 

^Jaml quotes from Shathlyat in the following way: 

In his Sharh Shathlyat . Shaykh Ruzbehan Baqll says; 
that he (.Abu ‘All 3 was one of the masters of Abu 
Yazid. Abu Yazid said, "I learnt from Abu ‘All the 
knowledge of self-annihilation in tawbld ( f ana ’ 
dar tawhld") « and_Abu ‘All learnt from me al-bamd 
and qul~huwa Allah (i.e.» chapters I and 112 of 
the Qur’an) ( Nafabat , p. 57 ) • 

For Baqll ' s text, see Shatbiy at , p. 55. 

^ Shathlyat , p. 77 - 

^Supra, p p . 541-542. 


But, on the other hand, we do not have a 
definite answer of our own to this question. However, 
we think that the key to the solution of the problem 
may lie in the meaning of the word 1 lag q ana * . On the 
basis of two meanings which, we think, this word had 
in the time of Abu Yazid, we suggest two answers one 
of which may be correct. But we emphasize that both 
these answers should be taken as presumptions. 

If by 1 lag q ana 1 Abu Yazid referred to instruc- 
tions in the ordinary sense, then Abu Yazid taught Abu 
‘All the obligatory duties of a Muslim, e.g., prayer 
and fasting, as Zaehner suggests, or chapters I and 
112 of the Qur’an as is mentioned in Shathlyat . That 
1 lag q ana 1 in the present context may have implied 
simple instruction is suggested by the fact that Baqll 
expresses the idea by saying that Abu ‘All '"learnt' 
(amukht) from me," etc. If laqqana meant more than 
this, Baqll would not have used amukht to describe the 
situation; for, amukht refers to learning in the ordi- 
nary sense. If this interpretation is correct, we have 
to accept Zaehner' s view that Abu ‘All was a newly 
converted Muslim; for, otherwise, why did he need to 
be instructed in the way in which a Muslim performs 
the obligatory duties or to be taught the chapters 1 
and 112 of the Qur’an? These things are usually learnt 



by Muslim children soon after they learn to walk and 
talk. In fact, Zaehner's interpretation seems to be 
the most natural explanation of the situation on the 
basis of what we know of Abu ‘All.^ Moreover, this makes 
the explanation of Abu ‘All's teaching of Abu Yazld 
very easy. As a follower of some other faith, Abu ‘All 


knew al-fana^ fl al-tawhld and, after conversion, he 
instructed Abu Yazld in these mystical subjects. The 
instruction of a §ufi by someone belonging to another 
religion is not unknown. Ibrahim b. Adham, for example, 
is said to have been taught ma‘ rif ah by a Christian 

7 . _ . _ 

monk named Simeon. In the case of Abu All, however, 
we do not know to which religion he may have belonged. 
We have no indication to show that— he-was either a 
Hindu or a Buddhist. 

^ Luma * , pp. 325 and 354 in addition to 177; 

Naf abat , p . 57 • 


This is an Arabic translation of the Persian 
fan5* dar tawbld 

%ilyah . VIII, 29. 

For a translation of Bilyah 1 s text in this connec- 
tion, see Arberry, Sufism , p. 3*?. 

We should mention here that if a Muslim learns 
mysticism from a non-Muslim, it does not mean that the 
Muslim becomes a non-Muslim. All that it shows is that 
Sufism drew inspiration from outside sources. 


If, on the other hand, lag q ana meant imprinthag 
something on the mind, as in imprinting an idea on the 
mind of a child or as in imprinting shahadah on the 
mind of a dying man, 1 we may offer an interpretation 
of the situation in which the reciprocal teaching took 
place. Both Abu Yazld and Abu ‘All were (Muslim) §ufl 
masters . They associated with each other and discussed 
mystical matters such as tawhid and baqa’iq . Abu ‘All 
knew more about thse subjects than Abu Yazld so that 
the latter benefitted from his discussion with the 
former. Hence Abu Yazld recognized Abu ‘All as his 
master. But, on the other hand, while discussing the 
relationship of Shari* ah and haqa* iq . Abu Yazld found 
that his teacher considered Shari* ah unnecessary after 
one reaches haqa’ iq . Hereupon, Abu Yazld 'imprinted' 
on Abu ‘All's mind the necessity of performing obliga- 
tory duties as prescribed by Shari* ah even after the 
attainment of haqa’iq . 

The above discussion shows that there is 
hardly any basis for supposing that Abu Yazld was 
directly influenced by Indian thought. Nevertheless, 
it is quite likely that Abu Yazld and other §ufis of 
Khurasan, especially of the North-Eastern part of it, 

1 "Bis'tamiana" , p. 36. 



were indirectly influenced by Indian thought. Cultural 
contact always results in give-and-take; underlying 
ideas are disseminated and the thought-patterns of the 
cultures involved are fertilized. Contact between 
Persia and India is known to have existed from ancient 

According to the ' Dabistan' under the Mahabid 

dynasty they had common sovereigns and religion; 
Mazdaism, the religion of Zarathushtra Spitama 
(Zordushta, Zoroaster) is a Brahmin heresy.... Even 
in the ancient biographies of Zarathushtra there 
is mention of the wise Brahmin Changrach who over- 
came Zarathushtra in argument. The Indian nation 
began in ancient times in Kabul and furthermore 
the Indian religion has reigned there from time 
immemorial. Persian literacy and art came from 
Bamiyan and Balkh where the population spoke the 
purest Persian dialect 'Dari' which is very 

close to Sanskrit. Y/itness is still given of the 
presence of India in Bamiyan by the extant ruins 
of Indian colossi, and Balkh is famed as the home 
of the school of Zoroaster and the ' Dasturi 's’, 
the high priests of his religion. A more decisive 
influence than that of Brahminism was to be had on 
Persia by Buddhism. Essentially, however, both 

1 See A.E. Krymsky, "A Sketch of the Development of 
§ufism down to the End of the Third Century of the 
gi^jrah", trans. from the Russian by K.S. Doniach, 
Islamic Quarterly , VI (1961-1964), 85, n. 5« 


these influences are one and. the same . Buddhist 
missionaries were successful in some provinces of 
Iran even perhaps during the period of Greek power 
in India. Under the Emperor Asoka, who sent mis- 
sionaries to all countries, one of them, Madyantika, 
attracted many followers in Kabul. Buddhism spread 
quickly: Alexander Polyhistor, who was writing 80- 
60 B.O., makes mention of samanei, or Buddhist 
monks, in Bactria. There was Buddhism in Lesser 
Bukhara in pre-Christian times. Ampere says that 
in the fourth century A.D. Chinese pilgrims found 
in the north-eastern part of Persia Gothic tribes 
( des populations gothiques ) who had come down from 
the plateau of Central Asia and founded a civilised 
state under the influence of Buddhism.^" 

Indian influence in Persia continued even after the 

Muslim conquest, especially in the remote areas of the 



This influence was particularly strong under the 
Samanids who ruled both Khurasan and Transoxiana, 
where Buddhism from Kara-Kitay was playing one 
important role. In eastern Turkistan, in the town 
of Khotan, the monk Hi-hio translated the Indian 
Sutra into Chinese in 684.... Chinese pilgrims 

• ^Ibid . , pp. 85-86. 

Cf. also Nicholson, Mystics , pp. 16-17, and 
Tholuck ( supra , jp . 299-300). 

^Krymsky, "Sketch", p. 87* 


fairly often visited regions peopled by Iranians.^ - 

In view of this, it would be unusual if Abu Yazid, who 
came from the North-Eastern region of Khurasan, were 
not influenced by Indian thought, at least in an 
indirect way. 

To sum up our arguments in the controversy on 
the question of the influence of Indian thought on 
Abu Yazid, most of his thought can be explained with 
reference to Islamic contexts. It is extremely important 
that his statements and words be understood in the con- 
texts in which they were made. Taking some words and 
expressions of a system out of their contexts and 
showing their similarities with those of another sys- 
tem hinders rather than helps the understanding of 
either system of thought. As regards a direct link be- 
tween Abu Yazid' s thought and Indian systems, there is 
little evidence to prove it. The connection is neither 
as simple nor as clear as Zaehner, for example, has 
argued. V/e think, nevertheless, that in view of the 
age-old cultural contact that existed between India 
and Khurasan, it would be usual for Abu Yazid to have 

1 Ibid. , n. 1. 


been influenced by Indian thought in an indirect way* 

We may add in this connection that even if we 
suppose that Abu Yazld had borrowed some elements of 
Indian thought, he transformed them so radically that 
they no longer remained what they were. They were now 
"Islamized" and thus adapted to the service of the new 
context. When Abu Yazid got "done with them", they 
could no longer be "shipped" back to India for their 
use there. 

To conclude this chapter, it is very unfortu- 
nate that scholars have indulged in tracing the origins 
of §uflsm at a time when not only that we should de- 
vote our time and energy to a more important task‘d but 
also that in the present state of our meagre knowledge 
of early $ufism it is difficult to draw a comparison 
of any kind between Sufi concepts and those of other 
systems of thought. Our knowledge of early Sufism is 
so little that whenever we make a statement about a 
particular Sufi or about a particular Sufi concept, we 
are often forced to qualify it by "perhaps" , "presum- 
ably", etc. Since, on the basis of this uncertain 
knowledge, scholars proceed to make further presumptions 

1 _ 

Supra * p . ix. 


about the influence of other systems of thought on 
§uflsm (and we have added a few of our own), we are 
faced with piles of presumptions which lead us 
nowhere . 

In 1942, Arberry called for a truce asking 
the scholars not to involve themselves in this kind 
of controversy for some time. 1 But later he broke 
this truce himself and entered into the controversy 
because the proponents of the theory of extra-Islamic 
influence on §ufism did not accede to his call. We 
have also fallen in the same predicament; we have been 
forced to discuss this question because scholars have 
been debating it so hotly. Let us put a stop to the 
matter here with a reminder to all concerned of the 
following counsel of Arberry: 

. . . let it be clearly understood that so far as 
the constructing of a history of §uflsm is con- 
cerned these attractive generalities make in 
reality very little solid matter; and personally 
I would recommend that a truce be called to all 
such speculations for at least a generation, so 
that meanwhile all possible energy can be concen- 
trated upon the main task in hand, the only task 
appropriate to the thorough-going specialist, the 

1 Infra, pp. 350-351 • 


description and analysis of §ufi doctrine and 
practice on the basis of Islamic sources and 
Islamic sources only.^ 

We would, however, slightly amend Arberry's counsel. 

Arberry made this statement about one generation. Since 

not much has been done in the field of the study of 

early §uflsm during this period, and since not many 

people are being attracted to this study even to-day, 

we need to continue the truce for another generation 

or two until we accomplish the task to which Arberry 


has rightly directed us. 

^Arberry, History of Sufism , p. 19. 

^While introducing his article "Pre-Islamic 
Monotheism in Arabia" ( The Harvard Theological Review , 
LV;IV [Oct. 1962], 269-280], H.A.R. Gibb also has 
asked for a stop to all quest for origins. In his 
opinion, if one were simply pre-occupied with origins, 
then he would have to conclude that Christianity is 
Judaism; but to conclude so is to fail to understand 

Chapter VII 


Abu Yazid' s Historical Importance 

In the preceding pages we have drawn a sketch 
of the life and teachings of Abu Yazid al-Bistami. This 
sketch has shown that he was an extremely complex and 
unusual personality. Our study has also provided us 
with an insight into the nature of §uflsm in the be- 
ginning of the third/ninth century. Now it remains for 
us to assess the role that Abu Yazid played in the 
development of §ufism. 

In an assessment of Abu Yazid' s historical 
importance, we are faced with several problems. It is 
difficult to trace the history of §ufi ideas with 
reference to the terms which have been employed to 
express them; for, sometimes different terms have been 
used by different §ufis, and sometimes a particular 
§ufl has used more than one term to express a specific 
idea. We have seen, for example, that Abu Yazid 


sometimes used the term ‘ilm to mean ma* rifah .^ Our 
problem becomes more complicated in view of the fact 
that most §ufl terms, e.g., mi* ra,i and tawjjld, may 
also be used as they are in general and common usage. 
Moreover, a specific §ufi term does not always convey 
an identical meaning for every §ufl. This is especial- 
ly true of the early history of §uflsm when the use 
of technical terms had not yet been stabilized. The 
chapters on ma* rif ah in Kalabadhi's Ta* arruf , for 
example, show that early §ufls used the term ma*rifah 
with various meanings in mind. We also recognize that 
similarity of the ideas of two §ufls does not necessa- 
rily prove the historical influence of one §ufl on 
another. Human minds may act in similar ways in simi- 
lar circumstances. Hence, similarity of ideas may very 
well be the result of analogical causes affecting the 
minds. Last of all, our knowledge of §ufxsm, especial- 
ly in its early stages of development is extremely 
limited. "Too many gaps remain in our knowledge; too 
many §ufl writings are unexplored, and too many 


mystics of enormous influence are all but unknown."^ 

1 Supra , p . 139. 

^ Ta* arruf , pp'. 63-67. 

^ Supra , p . x. 


In the present state of our knowledge, therefore, it 
is difficult to draw comparisons between the ideas of 
one §ufl and those of another. For these reasons, we 
cannot arrive at definite conclusions about the his- 
torical importance of Abu Yazid. Hence we realize 
that the conclusions which we present should be re- 
garded only as tentative. 

The teachings of Abu Yazld have two distinct 
features. The first of these is his mystical extremism; 
he had a tendency to go to extreme limits. For example, 
while discussing his life and personality, we had occa- 
sion to refer to his unusually sharp sense of con- 
scientiousness regarding what is and what is not 
permissible, his extreme sense of devotion to his 
mother, his extraordinary sense of humility before 
God and in relation to His creatures. The tendency in 
the direction of extremism also manifested itself in 
his mystical teachings. He brought, by what we have 
called the Bis-fcami manner of exaggeration, some of the 
§ufl concepts to their logical conclusions. Along these 
lines, Abu Yazid was certainly influential in contri- 
buting to the development of the §ufi tradition. 

The second distinct feature of Abu Yazid' s 
teachings is that he introduced into §ufism some 


conceptual forms, imageries and metaphors which proved 
meaningful in the expression of mystical experience. 
His contributions to the expression of mystical ex- 
perience served and continue to serve those within the 
tradition of §ufism. We shall now discuss some of Abu 
Yazid's teachings'*' in the light of the two features 
mentioned above. 

Asceticism, the elements of which were present 
in the teachings of the Qur’an and in the lives of 
Muhammad and of his immediate companions, was adopted 
as part and parcel of the §ufl movement. Ha§an al- 
Ba§rl , Ibrahim b. Adham, Rabi‘ ah al-‘ Adawiyyah — all 
practised and insisted on the renunciation of the 
world. Some of these §ufis also spoke of the necessity 
of the renunciation of the hereafter, i.e., of the 
fear of Hell-fire and hope for Paradise as motivating 
factors of the worship of God. According to Ibrahim b. 
Adham, the true saint of God covets nothing of this 
world, nor of the hereafter; he devotes himself com- 

2 - t 

pletely to God. Ibrahim once said that he had left 

■*"In doing so, we shall, in most cases, follow the 
order in which his teachings have been discussed in 
the dissertation. 

2 Kashf, p. 27 4. 


the world and the hereafter and had chosen for himself 
the remembrance of God in this world and the vision 
of God in the hereafter. One of Abu Yazld's state- 


ments quoted above is similar to this saying of 
Ibrahim. Rabi‘ah was once found running with water in 
one hand and fire in the other. When asked why she 
was doing so, she replied that she was going to ex- 
tinguish the fire of Hell with the water and burn Para- 
dise with the fire so that thereafter no one would be 
able to worship God either for fear of Hell-fire or 
for hope of Paradise. 

Abu Yazld also practised and preached the 
necessity of a rigorous asceticism concerning this 
world and the next. We can say that up to this point, 
he was walking on the trodden path except that, per- 
haps, no §ufl before him had used such strong terms 
as "I uttered the triple formula of divorce, never to 
return to it (the world),"**’ "I pronounced over them 

■*■11. M. Sharif (ed.), A History of Muslim Philosophy 
(Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 19&5-196€>) , 1, 336. 


Supra , p . 156. 

^Al-Aflakl, Manaqib , I, 397 • 

^ Supra , p . 148. 


(the creatures) the formula of funeral prayer"'*' and "I 


was a black-smith of my Self for twelve years" to des- 
cribe his or her renunciation. What is new in Abu 
Yazld's teachings is that he carried the idea of re- 
nunciation to its farthest limit. He renounced, in 
addition to the world and the hereafter, dhikr, love, 

ma*rifah and the gifts of God such as the Protected 


Tablet and the Throne. While speaking of renunciation 
of all other than God, he also insisted on abstinence 
from abstinence itself. It would seem that this last 
idea i.e., the idea of abstinence from abstinence, was 
taken up by later §ufls as the highest stage of asce- 
ticism,^ and the resultant psychological state, fana* 
*an al-f ana * , as the highest state of f ana * • 

Although §ufls before Abu Yazld emphasised the 
necessity of and also practised asceticism, no one, as 
far as we know, expressed the psychological state 

1 Supra , p . 151 , 

^ Supra . pp. 151 and 152 . 

-' Supra , p . 163 and n . 6 of the same page . 

Supra , p. 163. 

^Al-Shibll, for example, says that asceticism is 
heedlessness ( Luma * , p. 4-7). 


resulting from asceticism in the conceptual form of 
f ana ’ , and its corresponding positive state, in the 
conceptual form of bag a ’ . Probably, Abu Yazld intro- 
duced these two concepts into §ufism. 

According to JamI, it was Abu Sa‘Id al-Kharraz 
who first spoke of the theory of fan a ’ and baqa * We 
cannot accept Jaml's view as correct. Al-Kharraz died 
in 277/890-91 and thus belonged to a generation which 
followed Abu Yazld (d. 23*0 . The view that Abu Yazld 
introduced the concept of f ana ’ into §uflsm has addi- 
tional support if it is true that his master Abu 1 All 
al-Sindl, who taught his disciple fana* fl al-tawbld. 
was really a non-Muslim. One may argue, however, that 
probably JamI had the correlation of the concepts of 
fana ’ and baqa ’ in mind when he said that al-Kharraz 
was the first to speak of the two concepts. Our answer 
is that the idea of this correlation also existed in 
Abu Yazld* s teachings. ^ 

On the basis of the available information, 
then, we conclude that Abu Yazld was the first §ufl 

•*~ Naf abat , p. 73* 

Of. Essai, p. 301 ; Nicholson, "Origin", p. 325« 


Supra , p. 342, n. 1, and p. 344. 

^Supra, p. 182. 


to speak of the concepts of fana * and baga* and of 
their correlation* From this time on* f ana and bac[a 
became two pivotal concepts in §ufx thought and lite- 
rature. Soon afterwards, al-Junayd wrote a treatise on 

fana’ ( Kitab al-Fana *) 1 and developed the doctrine of 

—————— _ 2 

fana ’ into a well co-ordinated §ufl theosophy. He 

understood Abu Yazld's subhanl to represent Abu Yazld's 
experience of the state of fana . Referring to this 
famous shatb of Abu Yazid, al-Junayd said, "The one 
who is annihilated in the vision of (God's) Glory 
expresses himself according to what annihilates him. 
When he is withdrawn from the perception of himself so 
that he sees nothing other than God, he describes 
Him."^ Al-Junayd' s idea of fana*, which has been well 
expressed in the following prayer for one of his 
friends is particularly reminiscent of Abu Yazid' s 

idea of fana * : 

Then may He (God) perpetuate for you the life 
which is extracted from the eternity of life as 
He is everlasting, and may He isolate you from 
what is yours on His behalf and from what is His 
on your behalf, so that you are alone thi-ough Him 

Al-Junayd, Rasa’ il , pp. 31-39 • 

%*or al-Junayd 's doctrine of fana * see ‘Abdu-r- 
Rabb, al-Junayd , pp. 49-69* 

^ Supra , p . 283. 


for all eternity. Then there shall remain neither 
you nor yours, nor your knowledge of Him, but God 
will be alone. 1 

Al-Shibli, al-Junayd's disciple, expressed the state 
of f ana * in the following verses: 

I am lost to myself and unconscious . 

And my attributes are annihilated. 

Today I am lost to all things : 

Naught remains but a forced expression . 2 

One can add numerous examples to show how the 
concepts of fana * and baqa * were understood, developed, 
and made key concepts of §uflsm by §ufls after Abu 
Yazld. Even a casual glance at the standard handbooks 
of §uf Ism such as Risalah . Ta* arruf and Kashf shows 
that considerable space is devoted to the doctrines of 
fana * and baga * . But, as we have said, probably the 
credit for introducing these concepts into §uflsm goes 
to Abu Yazld. 

Another pivotal concept of §ufism is that of 
tawhid . The earliest definitions of this term 
are associated with Abu Yazid^ and with Dhu al-Nun 

1 Luma‘ , p . 243 • 

2 Kashf, p. 244; trans. Nicholson, p. 195. 

^ Supra , p . 188 . 


al-Mi§ri.^ The central idea in these definitions is 

the same. Abu Yazld and Dhu al-Nun were contemporaries 

and friends. Hence, if we assume that one of them knew 

the definition from the other, it is difficult to say 

who knew it from whom. But, most of the traditions 

which refer to their relationship indicate that Dhu 

al-Nun was indebted to Abu Yazld. Dhu al-Nun would 

send a disciple to Abu Yazld to ask a question and not 

vice versa . On one occasion, having heard Abu Yazld' s 

answer to one of Dhu al-Nun' s questions, the latter 

remarked about Abu Yazld, "May he be blessed 1 This is 

_ p 

a speech which our states ( abwal ) have not reached." 

On the basis of this evidence, it is possible for us 
to speculate that the §ufl conception of tawhld origi- 
nated in Bisham and not in Egypt. 

Whether or not Abu Yazld was the first to de- 
fine the §ufl conception of tawhld . he clarified and 
elaborated the concept of tawhld and the Baghdad 
school of §ufism, which deserves the credit for the 
fullest development of this doctrine, may have re- 
ceived inspiration from Abu Yazld. His ideas that in 
the state of tawhld . man loses all volition and 

^ Risalah , p. 4. 


Supra , p . 106. 


choice, that the experience of tawhld is something to 
be tasted and not described, that this experience is 
the result of God's grace, and that there are different 
groups of worshippers, ^ are found in much more deve- 


loped form in al-Junayd, the most prominent represen- 
tative of the Baghdad school. We know it for certain 
that al-Junayd, as well as other important members of 
his school, knew Abu Yazld's teachings. Hence we can 
perhaps say more or less definitely that the Baghdad 
school of §uflsm was influenced by Abu Yazld's doc- 
trine of tawhid . 

Still another pivotal concept of §uflsm is 
that of ma^ifah . Dhu al-Nun is generally credited 
with the introduction of the idea of ma* rif ah into 
§ufism. But this view does not seem to be correct. It 
is true that ma* rif ah does not carry the same meaning 
for all early §ufls; but there were §ufls before Dhu 
al-Nun, Abu Sulayman al-Daranl (d. 215/830-831), for 

£ x _ _ 

example, who spoke of ma rif ah . Dhu al-Nun' s contri- 
bution seems to consist in his development of the idea 




Supra , pp. 188, 196-198, and 221-225* 
See ‘ Abdu-r-Rabb , al-Junayd . pp. 9-48. 
Tadhkirat, I, 255* 


°f ma* rif ah and his clear presentation of the idea. 

But in Abu Yazld too we find a developed idea of 
ma* rif ah very clearly presented. In fact many of Abu 
Yazld' s teachings on ma 1 2 * 4 rif ah resemble very closely 
with those of Dhu al-Nun's. Dhu al-Nun distinguished 
three kinds of knowledge: knowledge of the common man, 
of the elite and of the §ufls.^ We find a similar dis- 

— P _ _ 

tinction in Abu Yazld' s teachings. Dhu al-Nun's ideas 
that when ma* rif ah comes God becomes the disposer of 
the * arif , and that one reaches ma* rif ah through God^ 
are also present in Abu Yazld' s teachings.^ In fact, 
perhaps Abu Yazld has further clarified the concept of 
ma* rif ah through his distinction between exoteric 
knowledge (* ilm al-zahir) and esoteric knowledge ( * ilm 
al-batin) . his explication of the existence of know- 
ledge in Prophets and others, and his idea of the 
sources for these two kinds of knowledge. Here again 

1 Ibid ., p. 127. 

2 Supra, pp. 211-213. 

^ ladhkirat , I, 127. 

^Risalah, p. 156. 

^ Supra . pp . 208-210 . 

^ Supra . pp . 199-201 . 


if one of the two §ufls influenced the other, it is 
difficult to say who influenced whom. But what we have 
said of their relationship in respect to the concept 
of tawhld can also be applied in respect to the con- 
cept of ma* rif ah . 

Many ideas of Abu Yazid and Dhu al-Nun with 
regard to ma* rif ah were developed by the Baghdad 
school of §uflsm.^ 

Abu Yazid introduced into §uflsm the imagery 
of mi* ra«i g as a means of expressing the mystical 
experience. The audacity in introducing the mi*ra,i 
imagery lies not only in his re-enacting the process 
of the Prophet's journey to the court of God, step by 
step, in Abu Yazid' s own experience, but also in his 
claiming to have gone beyond the limits reached by 
Muhammad. Muhammad stopped "two bow-lengths or nearer", 
and saw God face to face;^ but Abu Yazid surpassed all 
limitations and became one with God. 

■^See * Abdu-r-Rabb , al-Junayd , pp. 83-108. 

^Supra , pp. 191-193- 

^Qur’an, 53*-9- 


Supra , p. 200. 


The mi 4 ra.i experience of Abu Yazld played an 
important role in the history of §ufl thought and 
literature. Many §ufls and §ufi authors, al-Junayd, 
al-Shibll, al- Hal lag , al-Sarrag, al-Hu^wIr!, ‘Attar 
and Rum! to name only a few, have discussed and 
interpreted Abu Yazld' s mi* ra.i . In fact, mi ‘ra.i be- 
came a .persistent theme in many later §ufl works. 

Naom al-Dln al-Kubra's Rawa* ih and Lahijl's commentary 
on' Shabistari's Gulshan-i Raz . 1 for example, are full 
of expressions of the mi* raj experience. 

As for the influence of Abu Yazld' s use of 
the mi ‘ra.i imagery on later §ufx thought, many §ufls 
took Abu Yazld as their ideal and tried to express 
their mystical experiences in the pattern of his 
mi* ra,j . Al-Junayd' s experience of tawbid as a return 
of the soul to the primordial state in which it was 
before it entered the human body, was a kind of 
mi* ra,j experience • Al-Kharaqanl ' s description of his 
mystical experience is particularly reminiscent of 


^MuljLammad Ja‘far Lahijl, Mafatlb al-I*paz fl 

h-i Gulshan-i Raz ((Tehran ] Kitabfurushi Maljmudi,1958). 

2 This is al-Junayd 's famous doctrine of mithak 
(covenant 2 (see ‘ Abdu-r-Rabb , al-Junayd . pp. 70-82; 
‘Aba al-Qadir, al-Junayd . pp. 76-80; . 


Abu Yazld's mi t ra.j . He said: 

I ascended at noon to the Throne, to circle it, 
and I encircled it a thousand times; I saw round 
about it people who were still and serene, and 
they marvelled at the speed of my circling. Their 
circling had little value in my eyes. I said: "Who 
are you, and what is this laggardliness in your 
circling?" They said: "We are angels created of 
light and this is our nature beyond which we can- 
not pass." Then they said: "Who are you and what 
is this speed in your circling?" I said: "I am a 
man compact of light and fire and this speed comes 
from the light of longing."^ 

A woman §ufl^ also expressed her experience of mi* ra,j 
through different stages in a fascinating way. She said, 

I was recalling Abu Yazld's signs of grace, and I 
asked the Lord that He would show me him in the 
hidden world; and while I asked Him, in the same 
night I was taken up into heaven, in an ascent of 
perception, until I passed beyond the seventh 
sphere and came to the Throne. I was summoned, 

"Draw near... draw nearl" I came finally to the 
Throne, and penetrated the veils; there I was 

"'•Translated and quoted by al-Samarra’x ( Theme , 
p. 195 ) from al-Kaf awl's A* lam al-Akhyar . 

We have quoted another account of al-Kharaaanl ' s 
miraj experience on p. 555* 


Al-SahlagI tells us that she was a pious woman of 
royal descent from Khurasan and that she belonged to 
the Tayfuri tradition of §uflsm (Nur, p. 123)* 


called, "Approach mei" Then I rent the veils; came 
to a place where my sight left me, and I saw God 
purely through His own deed, regarding His 
creation, and I said to him who was with me, 

"Where is Abu Yazid?" He said, "Abu Yazld is 
before you"; and he gave me wings with which I 
might fly. My state of annihilation, accompanying 
me, was replaced by the emergence of godhead, 
until He took me through Him, that is to say not 
Him through me, until He achieved a Union which 
is, without a hint of aught else, that Union which 
gives no sign of any created work when such obli- 
vion is met with. Afterwards [I walked] on the 
carpet of the Essence of the Truth, hence I was 
asked: "At what are you aiming, while this is 
Abu Yazld?"... I was then taken to a green garden... 
I said, "01 that is Abu Yazidl" He said, "This 
place is Abu Yazld’ s; but Abu Yazid is searching 
for his self but will not find it."^* 

Since both al-Kharaqani and the woman §ufi belonged 
to the (fayfurl tradition of §ufism, we are certain of 
Abu Yazid' s influence on them. 

Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Jabbar al-Nif fieri (d. ca . 
365/976) and Mulji al-Dln Ibn ‘Arab! (d. 638/1240) 

■^Nur, p. 123; trans. al-Samarra’ i, Theme, pp. 194- 



wrote books on their experience of mi t ra.i .^' 

Aside from the mi*ra.i imagery, Abu Yazid 
introduced into §ufism the symbolism of ’mirror', of 


'drink' and 'cup', the metaphor of the 'Magian girdle', 
etc. These were used extensively by later §ufis and 
§ufi authors, especially by the §ufi poets. 

The most important aspect of Abu Yazid' s 
thought is that of shatabat . The phenomenon of shath 
existed before Abu Yazid. Ibrahim b. Adham, for 
example, had said, "Oh Godi You know that Paradise 
does not weigh with me so much as the wing of a gnat. 
If You bring me near You by Your recollection, sustain 
me with Your love and make it easy for me to obey You; 
then give the Paradise to whomsoever You will."^ 
Rabi‘ah, Ibrahim's contemporary, once addressed God, 
saying, "Oh Lord! Do You not have any kind of punish- 
ment and discipline (adab) except Hell-fire?"^ Another 

Muhammad b_. ‘ Abd al-Jabbar al-Niffari, Kitab al - 
Mawaqif and Kitab al-Mukhatabat , ed. and trans. A.J._ 
Arberry (London :_Luzac & Co. ,'”19552 » Ibn ‘Arab!, Kitab 
al-Isra* ila Mag am al-Asra ($aydarabad, 1948) . 

2 Supra . pp. 105* 151* 152, 159* n. 1* etc. 

^ Bilyah . VIII, 55. 

Quoted by__Badawi ( Shatabat , p. 19) from al- 
Munawi ' s Tabaqat al-Awliya * . 


time, having heard someone reciting the Qur’anic verse, 
"Verily the companions of Paradise on that Day shall 
enjoy everything that they do"^ she said, "Poor 


people of Paradise'. They are busy with their wives." 
Referring to the Ka‘bah, she said, "This is an idol 
worshipped on earth; God does not enter it, nor is it 
independent of Him . " ^ 

We notice that these shatahat relate either to 

the interiorization of religious rites or to the 

hereafter. According to our classification, they fall 

— - 4 

into the lowest two categories of Abu, Yazid's shatahat. 
But even in this respect, Abu Yazld carried the 
shatahat to their extreme limits in the BistamI manner 
of exaggeration. His claims that his banner was 
greater than Muhammad's 5 and his excusing the Jews, 

^■Qur’an, 56:55* 

^Quoted by Badawl ( Shatahat . p. 19) from al-Munawi's 
Tabaqat al-Awliya l 

5 Ibid. 

^Supra, pp. 253-266. 

^ Supra . p. 261. 


Supra , p. 261. 



for example , are much more paradoxical than the state- 
ments of Ibrahim and Rabi* ah* 

One aspect of Abu Tazld's shatahat concerning 
the hereafter is his emphasis on intercession.^* This 
is unique to Abu Yazld. We do not know of any §ufl 
before Abu Yazld who claimed to have the power of 
interceding for men on the Day of Judgment. Later 
§ufls, al-Junayd, for example, spoke of shafi * as 
one who helps people to achieve the mystical aim in 
this world. * 2 * Abu Yazld also believed in intercession 
in this sense. We know that he received guidance from 
several §ufl masters, and he insisted that others do 
likewise. But Abu Yazld was the first §ufl to have 
applied shafA 4 to a §ufl in the sense of an interces- 
sor ou the Day of Judgment. 

In his typical fashion, Abu Yazld made extreme 
claims for himself. Whereas Muhammad's intercessory 
powers would be of assistance to Muhammad's community 
alone, Abu Yazld claimed for himself the ability to 
intercede for all mankind.^ There are statements which 

^ Supra . pp. 260-264. 

2 *Abdu-r-Rabb, al-Junayd . p. 111. 

^ Supra, pp. 260-262 



suggest that the function was considered beneath him. 
Intercession for all mankind would be easier than 
interceding for a piece of clay, 1 and he would not 
want to approach God for such a small favour. Besides, 
intercession is more in keeping with the appropriate 
functions of the prophets ~ men of Shari 4 ah. ^ Abu 
Yazld belonged to the men of haaioah . 

The shafrafrat which have attracted the most 
attention are those statements which have been uttered 
in the moment of intense ecstasy at which time the 
§ufl experiences being one with God. In such moments 
the intoxicated §ufl breaks forth with statements such 
as "Glory be to me I" The §ufl no longer speaks as 
though God were other than he; he experiences that he 
is none other than God and that God is speaking 
through him. Abu Yazld is particularly famous for 
shatabat of this extreme kind. Of special historical 
significance is the fact that Abu Yazld was the first 
to express the experience of the overpowering presence 
of God in this manner. Subsequently shatb has come to 
mean especially an utterance of this kind. It took a 
Khurasan! rebel to break all the limitations set by 

1 Supra , p. 262. 

^ Supra , pp. 262-265* 


orthodox Islam and to cry out, "Glory be to me! How 
great is my majesty", "There is no god but I. So 
worship me!" 

The formulation of shatabat in which the §ufl 
speaks as though he were God was a most radical inno- 
vation. It shocked "orthodox" minds and the response 
was tremendous. The immediate consequence was Abu 
Yazld's exile from Bistam. What is more important is 
the fact that shatabat became a subject of heated dis- 
cussion among both the orthodox Muslims and §ufls. 

After Abu Yazld's death, we find al-Junayd writing 
treatises on Abu Yazld's shatabat and al-Shlbll and al- 
hallaj criticizing Abu Yazxd for having uttered the 
shatabat . Ibn Salim discussed them in a debate with 
al-Sarraj, and al-Sarraj devoted chapters of his Luma * 
to explain and defend the shatabat of Abu Yazid as 
well as of others. In fact, there is hardly any §ufl 
author after Abu Yazid who has not discussed Abu 
Yazld's shatabat .^ 

Not only did §ufls and §ufl authors discuss 
the shatabat of Abu Yazid, but they have also been 
influenced, either positively or negatively, by them. 
Let us take a few cases of positive influence first. 

^Supra, pp. 275-298. 


The most immediate positive influence of Abu 


Yazid's shatabat was on al-gallaj and al-Shibll. It is 
true that both of them criticized Abu Yazld; but they 
made their own shatabat which closely resemble some of 
the utterances of Abu Yazld. One can see a very close 
similarity between Abu Yazid's "There is no Truth 
( baqg ) except that I am He"^ and "I am the Truth" 
attributed to al-gallaj. Some of al-Shibll' s shatabat 
are very similar to theose of Abu Yazid. Among al- 
Shibli's shatabat , we would call attention to these: 
"If the thought of Gabriel and Michael occurred to 


you, you have committed shirk " "BY Godi Muhammad 
will not be happy if there will be a single man from 
his community in Hell. If Mubammad intercedes for his 
community, I shall intercede after his intercession 
until none will remain in Hell."^ In fact, it would 
be no exaggeration to say that there would have been 
no shatabat of al-gallaj and of al-Shibll if there had 
been no shatabat of Abu Yazld. They were not to enjoy 
the freedom to express themselves that Abu Yazld 

^Supra, p. 2?0. 

^Luma‘ , p. 398. 

^Quoted by Massignon ( Texts inedits , p. 78) from 
al-Namus of Ibn al-JawzI. 


enjoyed. This fact can be explained, partially at least, 
by the kind of political and religious atmosphere 
which prevailed in their day.'*’ 

Later, the phenomenon of shatabat became a 
very important aspect of §ufism. Many important §ufls 
pronounced shatabat in the form in which Abu Yazld 
first introduced them. The famous §ufI-poet of Egypt, 
‘Umar Ibn al-Fari<J (d. 632/1235)* for example, said. 

Since, but for me. no existence would have come 
into being, nor would there have been a 
contemplation (of God), nor would any secure 
covenants have been known . 

None lives but his life is from mine, and every 
willing soul is obedient to my will ; 

And there is no speaker but tells his tale with my 
words, nor any seer but sees with the sight of 
mine eye ; 

And no silent (listener) but hears with my hearing , 
nor any one that grasps [batish] but with my 
strength and might [shiddah ) ; 

And in the whole creation there is none save me 


that speaks or sees or hears . 

^ Supra, 

pp. 276-282. 

^Michael Farid Gharlb, * Umar Ibn al-Farid C Zablah: 
Zaljlat al-FaJ;ah, 1965), p. £9; trans. R.A. Nicholson, 
Studies in Islamic Mysticism (Cambridge: The Univer- 
sity Pres8V"l'92r)T' P "255T" 


Ibn Faria's contemporary, Ibn ‘ArabI, said. 

He (God) praises me and I praise Him ; 

He worships me and I worship Him . 1 

Elsewhere, he said, 

Whenever I say, n 0h Master l” 

He (God) says, "You are My owner (malik ) . 

By Godi The existence 

Of My servant has blocked all My ways . 

Nothing; prevents Us from 
Serving him in any way . 

I do not share his essence . 

Nor his action with him . 

• • • 

And I am the Servant who 
" ' p 

Looks after the kingdoms .” 

Baqll devoted a whole monograph to the elucidation and 

- * 

interpretation of shatahat . We have also mentioned 
Ruml's statement that each of the verses composed by 
§ufl masters in his day contained one thousand ana 
al-baqqs and subhanl s.^ 

al-Dln Ibn ‘ArabI, Fugug al-Hikam , ed. Abu 
al-‘Ala ‘Aflfl (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-* ArabI, 1946), 
p. 83* 

^Ibn ‘ArabI, Al-Futuhat al-Makkiyyah (Cairo, 1876) 
IV, 459. 

^Supra , p . 34 . 

^ Supra , p. 298. 


There are two points here that should be men- 
tioned. First, in the early period, shatabat were 
criticized and the §ufls who pronounced them were 
persecuted and were killed in some cases; but in the 
late medieval period §uflsm became a very important 
force in the Muslim societies, and few uttered a word 
against them. Rum! expressed his satisfaction over the 
fact that no one had the audacity to say a word against 
the shatabat of the §ufls of his time.^ The second 
point we wish to make is that Abu Yazld's shatabat were 
extreme to the degree that, as far as we know, no one 
after him could utter a more radical statement. Most 
of the shatabat of later §ufls are moderate in compari- 
son with those of Abu Yazld. 

On the negative side, most of the so-called 
sober §ufls and §ufl authors learnt a lesson from Abu 
Yazld' s shatabat . Al-Junayd was perhaps the first man 
to have fully realized the evil consequences of the 
unbridled expressions of the mystical experience in 
the form of shatabat . Therefore, he placed an emphasis 
on controlling the mystical expression, and he used 


obscure language to express the mystical experience. 

•^ Supra . p. 298. 

Abdu-r-Rabb, al-Junayd , pp. 6-8. 


,He favoured sobriety, and he was joined by a number of 
apologetic writers who were directly or indirectly 
associated with the Junaydian school — al-Sarraj, al- 
Qushayrl , al-Hujwirl and al-Kalabadhl . Some might 
contend that their attitudes were more significantly 
influenced by the experience of al-§allaj's than by 
the reactions to Abu Yazid 's statements* We maintain 
that the unfavourable consequences of shatahat were 
already in evidence at the time of Abu Yazid. He was 
the first to utter extreme statements which exceeded 
all limits. Al-]Jallaj's shatahat were only more of the 
same kind although somewhat milder. The treatment he 
received was more severe than that of Abu Yazid for 
reasons we have explained above In short, then, we 
can say that the relatively more sober §ufxsm that 
came into being with the Junaydian school was in a 
sense the result of Abu Yazid' s provocative utterances.^ 

1 Surra , pp. 276-282. 

? _ 

The importance of Abu Yazid' s shatahat in the 
history of §uflsm has been summed up very beautifully 
by Massignon. He says that Abu Yazid 

left a fulgurating memory ever alive in Islam. 
Having become a Semite spiritually, and praying 
in Arabic liturgy, he undertook a dialogue with 
God in the form of short invocations in Persian 
of a sharpness and violence which went beyond 
prayer, if I may say so. For, it is a vehement 
attack vis-a-vis Divine Omnipotence, which a pure 
Semite would perhaps not have dared to formulate. 


Abu Yazld's teachings also contained, in an 
embryonic form, some concepts which, in the later his- 
tory of §ufxsm, were developed into important §ufl 
doctrines. Al-Junayd, for example, developed the doc- 
trine of sobriety ( sabw ) . According to this doctrine, 
the §ufl, after having reached the experience of 
tawhid . must come back to the world for the guidance 
of his fellow-men. Later, many Sufis and §ufi authors, 
e.g., al-Sarraj, al-Qushayrl, al-Hu jwlrl , ‘Attar and 
al-Ghazzali, adopted and elaborated on this doctrine. 
But the idea of a return to the world existed, in a 

because he would have had to consider himself 
superior to a prophet in order to do it. Besides, 
there is in it something very Iranian: this psycho 
logical orchestration, this kind of frontal_attack 
Actually still, the whole vocabulary of Islamic 
mysticism depends on this starting point, the 
attempt of the Iranians to seize the divine langu- 
age throughout the Qur’an. While the reverential 
fear of the Semite considers God as completely 
inaccessible, the Iranian temperament, which has a 
more supple language and a more daring "syllogis- 
tique", endeavours to penetrate to the nudity — 
if I may say so — of the Divine Semitic word in 
Arabic, the liturgical language of Islam (L. 
Massignon, Opera minora; textes recueillis , 
classes et pr^sentes [(Beirut): Dar Ma A arif, 

1963], 1, 5A2T: 

^See ‘Abdu-r-Rabb, al-Junayd . pp. 109-125; ‘Abd 
al-Qadir, al-Junayd . pp. 88-95. 


latent form, in Abu Yazid's thought.^ 

Al-Junayd also developed the doctrine of cove- 
nant ( mlthaq) . On the basis of the Qur’anic verse, 
"When your Lord took from the children of Adam — 
from their loins — their posterity and made them 
testify as to themselves: 'Am I not your Lord?' they 


replied, 'Yes'", al-Junayd concluded that the soul of 
man, before its entrance into the human body, existed 
in a state of unification with God, and that, in the 
experience of unification in this world, it (the soul) 
returns to the state in which it was originally.^ 

It seems that the idea of the pre-existence of 
the soul, on which al-Junayd' s doctrine of mlthaq; is 
based, was also present in Abu Yazid's thought in a 
latent form. Some sayings of Abu Yazld, especially, 


God's address to him, "I was yours when you were not", 
are suggestive of the same idea. 

^ Supra . pp. 246-247 
2 Qur’an, 7:172. 

^For al-Junayd' s doctrine of mithaq . see ‘Abdu-r- 
Rabb, al-Junayd . pp. 70-82; 4 Abdal-Qadir, al-Junayd . 

pp. 76-80. 

^ Nur . p. 140. 


One very important concept developed by later 
mystics, e.g., Abu Sa 4 Id Abl al-Khayr, *Abd al-Karim 
al-Jili (d. 832/1428) and Ibn ‘Arabl is that of "the 
Perfect Man" ( al-insan al-kamil) . According to this 
conception, God chooses man, endows him with his own 
mysteries and makes him His vicegerent on earth* Hence 
"the Perfect Man" alone manifests God's Essence 
together with His "names" and "attributes". He is the 
pole ( qutb ) of the universe and the medium through 
which the universe is preserved; he is the final cause 
of everything and the connecting link between God and 
His creation.^" 

Many traditions indicate the existence of the 
idea of "the Perfect Man" in a rudimentary form in the 
teachings of Abu Yazld. According to him, the real 
§ufl does not travel from the East to the West, but 
the East and the West come to him. Abu Yazld was 
omnipotent and omnipresent; he had neither beginning 
nor end^ angels came to ask him questions concerning 

■^On the idea of "the Perfect nan", see, E.I . * II-I, 
510-511; Nicholson, Studies * etc. 


Supra * p. 117* 

^ Supra * pp. 193-194. 


"present in the unseen ( ghayb) and existent in 

the seen", he informed other people or their presence 

with God;^ if the people had seen his hidden attributes, 


they would die of wonder. These are characteristics 
of "the Perfect Man". What is even more important is 
that Abu Yazld used the expression al-kamal al-tamm 
(the perfect and complete man) to describe the perfect 
§ufl.^ Our evidence strongly suggests that the history 
of the developed concept of "the Perfect Man" goes 
back to a significant aspect of Abu Yazld’ s teachings. 

We turn now to the question of Abu Yazid's 
influence on the development of the social structure 
of §uflsm. One important aspect of medieval Muslim 
societies in general and of §uflsm in particular was 
the §ufl tarlqah . In the fifth/eleventh century, the 
tarlqat began to take the form of definite organized 
orders with hierarchical structures and elaborate 

^Nur, p. 112. 

^Nur, p. 100. 

5 Ibid., p. 114. 

^Ibid. , p. 74. 

^See Arberry, Revelation and Reason , p. 107 and 
Nicholson, Studies , p. 7 7, n. 2. 


functions and ceremonies. In the later medieval period, 
these orders played a dominant role in Muslim so- 
cieties. Even today, the influence of §ufl orders on 
Muslim minds is very strong in many parts of the 
Islamic world. An example is the belief of most Ben- 
gali Muslims that salvation is dependant on the 
acceptance of a plr (spiritual master). 

Abu Yazld may be credited with having made a 
significant contribution to the formation of the 
tarlqah. Earlier we referred to a female mystic who 
claimed to have the mi * ra.i experience in the pattern 
of Abu Yazld' s mi* ra.i . Al-SahlagI says that she be- 
longed to Abu Yazld' s tarlqah . We do not wish to 
leave the impression that Abu Yazld had an order in 
the sense of well-organized tarlqat of later times. 
Nevertheless, the fact remains that many aspects of 
later frarigat were in one form or another present in 
Abu Yazid 's teachings. Although we have discussed 
this elsewhere, it is worthwile to mention and ela- 
borate on several points here. 

We know that before and during Abu Yazld' s 
time, there was the tradition of receiving instruction 

^Supra . p. 366, n. 2. 


from §ufl masters. For example, Ibrahim b. Adham is 
said to have received instructions from a Christian 
monk; 1 Ibrahim also associated with Sufiyan al-Thawrl 
(d. 161/778) and Fu^ayl b. *Iya<3. (d. 187/805); Shaqlq 
al-Balkhl was taught by Ibrahim b. Adham. But no one 
before Abu Yazld' ever expressed the necessity of the 
guidance of a spiritual teacher so clearly and strong- 
ly. His statement, "If a man has no master (ustad), 
then Satan is his guide ( imam) " T almost became a maxim 
of §ufl orders of medieval times. 

To our knowledge, Abu Yazld was also the first 

§ufl who declared that it is necessary for the disciple 

to be in absolute submission to his master. He said, 

If the master orders the disciple to do something 
worldly and sends him for his (own) good (fl 
islabihi ) , and on his way the mu’ adhdhin of a 
mosque recites the call to prayer and he says (to 
himself): 'I shall first go to the mosque to per- 
form prayer and then go for what the master has 
sent me', then he has fallen into a well the 

7 , 

bottom of which he will never discover... ^ 

1 Supra , p . 5^4 . 


Supra , p. 110. 

^ Supra , p. 111. 


Earlier we saw that a sizable group gathered around 
Abu Yazid and that he used to live a co mmuni ty life as 
is shown by the fact that one hundred or more people 
ate at his place everyday' 1 ’ and that he used to sit in 
the ma.ilis to discuss with and advise the disciples 


in mystical matters. On the basis of this evidence, 
we can say that Abu Yazid deserves the credit for 
introducing a more or less definite §ufl tar I a ah which 
in later history developed into a powerful and cohe- 
sive force in Islamic societies. 

The above discussion shows that Abu Yazid 
introduced into §ufism some important concepts, ima- 
geries and metaphors, elaborated and made clear some 
of the existing §ufi ideas, began the practice of 
expressing the mystical experience in shatabat of the 
most extreme kind, anticipated some important doctrines 
developed by later $ufis and, as far as we know, was 
the first to have established the rudimentary structure 
of a §ufl order. All this greatly contributed to the 
development of the §ufi tradition. The Baghdad school 

^ Supra . pp. 78-79* 


On the problem of master-disciple relationship 
see Meier, " Tartlb " » pp. 1-39* 


of §ufism in particular was influenced by Abu Yazld. 

But it would not be an exaggeration to say that nearly 
every §ufi after Abu Yazid was influenced either posi- 
tively or negatively by his life and teachings. For 
lack of evidence, we could not accept many of Zaehner*s 
arguments in favour of his theory that Abu Yazid was 
directly influenced by Indian thought, but we agree 
with Zaehner's conclusion that Abu Yazid constituted 
a turning point in the history of §ufism. Al-Junayd 
remarked, "Abu Yazid among us is like Gabriel among 
the angels",'*' and in tribute to his greatness, he re- 
ceived the title sultan an ‘arifin the "king of 


'knowers'". We have not found these estimates in- 
appropriate. Abu Yazid was one of the most important 
§ufis of the early period; and, in view of his 
influence on future developments in the §ufl tradition, 
he was probably the greatest §ufi up to his time. 

•*• Supra , p. 282. 


Supra , p. 81. 


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li-Alfaz al-Qur’an al-Karlm . Cairo: Migriyyah, 


‘Abd al-Qadir, A.H. The Life, Personality and Writings 
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‘ Abdu-r-Rabb , M. Al-Junayd' s Doctrine of Tawhld: An 
Analysis of his Understanding of Islamic 
Monotheism . Unpublished Master's dissertation, 
the Institute of Islamic Studies, McGill Univer- 
sity, Montreal, 1967* 

Abu Nu‘aym Aljmad al-Isbahanl. Hilyat al-Awliya* wa 

Tabaqat al-Asf iyi * . 10 vols. Cairo: Maktabat al- 
Khanaai and Ma£ba‘at al-Sa 4 adah, 1932=1933. 

Abu Ri<j.a. Ibrahim b. Sayyar al-Nazzam . Cairo: Lajnat 
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‘Aflfl, Abu al-‘Ala. The Mystical Philosophy of MubI 
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